More than 16,000 staff needed to run Nightingale Hospital at full capacity

By Luke Powell, PA

More than 16,000 members of staff could be needed to run London’s new NHS Nightingale Hospital to treat coronavirus patients should it reach full capacity.

The new 4,000-bed temporary facility at the ExCel convention centre in east London is due to open this week despite building work only starting last Wednesday.

Split into more than 80 wards containing 42 beds each, the Nightingale will become one of the biggest hospitals in the world, according to its chief operating officer Natalie Forrest.

The facility will be used to treat Covid-19 patients who have been transferred from other intensive care units (ICU) across London.

Speaking to visiting reporters, Ms Forrest said a “scary” number of staff would be needed to run the facility at full capacity and appealed for volunteers to come forward.

“If we have to use this facility, which I really hope we don’t because everyone is staying home and washing their hands and social distancing, we will need thousands of doctors and nurses and volunteers to run this facility,” she said.

Asked to clarify how many are required, Ms Forrest said: “The numbers are scary, but if I tell you that to run one ward, including all of our ancillary staff, we need 200 members of staff.”

The hospital will initially aim to care for 42 patients, before its expansion is “ramped up” to ensure it can meet its full 4,000-bed capacity in two weeks’ time if needed, the Nightingale’s chief medical director Alan McGlennan said.

Medical equipment on one of the Nightingale wards (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

He said coronavirus patients who are transferred to the hospital will already be on a ventilator and will remain at the Nightingale until their course of ventilation is finished.

Coronavirus patients suffering from other serious conditions – such as cardiac issues – will be better cared for at other specialist centres, Mr McGlennan said.

While the Nightingale will be able to provide up to 4,000 ventilator beds if they are needed, NHS London will still have control over the “most precious resources”, he added.

Eamonn Sullivan, the hospital’s director of nursing, said the facility will be able to operate as a large intensive care unit or a normal ward, depending on demand.

The Nightingale will also include support services found in other NHS hospitals, such as pharmacies and therapy treatment, Mr Sullivan said.

Military personnel are helping to build the Nightingale Hospital (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Meanwhile, staff working at the Nightingale will be able to sleep at nearby hotels once they finish their shift, Mr Sullivan said.

“We have got the facility here at ExCel and there is many, many thousands of hotel rooms. It is a perfect location,” he said.

“If staff wanted to stay, they could stay, so it is optional. But if they want to go home, then they can.”

An NHS England spokesman said the equipment being used at the Nightingale was all “new kit” and had not been borrowed from other hospitals.

But concerns have been raised that staffing the hospital with bank staff might lead to shortfalls in other parts of the health service.

Many hospitals rely on locum doctors to fill gaps in their rotas, either due to staff sickness or staff shortages.

A medical registrar at a London hospital told PA: “Some of those doctors have said they’re going to go to the Nightingale and they need people to start immediately.

“It is important that the Nightingale has doctors.

“But the position we’re in now, because our workforce is so unstable, we have got so much sickness, that if Dr A called in sick with corona Monday morning, the person I would ask (to cover) who I know is going to be free now no longer is.

“So it means I’m having to call on my current workforce to do that.

“I am ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ because if I take someone from my regular workforce and put them on the night shift they’re not there during the day.

“So that’s going to make life a little bit more difficult for us.”