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COVID-19: Nightingale ‘didn’t turn away patients due to lack of nurses’

Government says newspaper report that hospital rejected patient transfers amid staff shortage is ‘misleading’

Picture shows an empty bay at London’s Nightingale Hospital. A newspaper report that 50 patients were rejected by the London temporary hospital was called misleading by the Department of Health and Social Care
A bay at London’s Nightingale Hospital Picture: PA Wire

The government has denied a newspaper report that transfers of patients with COVID-19 were rejected by the newly built Nightingale Hospital in London due to a lack of nurses.

The Guardian newspaper reported that applications by several London NHS trusts to move patients to the new facility in the Docklands area of east London were rejected as there were too few nurses to care for them.

But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) called the report misleading, while the NHS insisted there was spare capacity in the capital’s critical care network.

Nightingale Hospital has a 4,000-bed capacity

The Nightingale, a critical care temporary hospital, has close to a 4,000-bed capacity, split into more than 80 wards each containing 42 beds. It was created in just nine days to help cope with the pandemic.

If fully operational, it would need up to 16,000 staff in clinical and ancillary roles.

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The Guardian said the hospital had been unable to admit about 50 people with COVID-19 who needed care since its first patient arrived on the site, with 30 rejected because of a lack of staff.

The newspaper said it had seen NHS documents saying the planned transfer of more than 30 patients to the hospital, located at the ExCel exhibition centre, was cancelled due to staffing issues.

An overspill in case the capital’s hospitals are overwhelmed

The DHSC said the Nightingale was designed to be an overspill facility in the event that hospitals in the capital became overwhelmed by patient numbers, and it was normal for transfer applications between hospitals in London to be refused if the appropriate facilities were unavailable.

It said the Nightingale was never intended to be a fully staffed intensive care unit (ICU), and nurses working in ICUs at London hospitals could be sent there if needed.

‘It is misleading to suggest coronavirus patients are being turned away from NHS Nightingale due to a shortage of staff,’ a spokesperson said.

NHS London said: ‘There remains spare capacity in the critical care network across the capital to look after all patients with COVID-19 and others who need care.

‘While it is incredibly reassuring for both staff and patients to have backup capacity at the Nightingale to alleviate pressure on ICU departments where needed, patients can be transferred to other hospitals in the city if they are better placed to receive them at that time – as is always the case.’

The report comes after the first patients were discharged from the Nightingale on Sunday, having been successfully treated.

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