• Critically ill patients will remain in the region
  • Chief executives concerned about staffing levels
  • Potential site in Kent dropped amid disagreements over care model

Around a quarter of the 3,600 beds at the London Nightingale Hospital could be used for patients from Kent and Sussex, HSJ has learned.

Trusts in the two counties have been told they would also need to send their staff to work at the new hospital. For every eight patients they transfer to the site – at the Excel conference centre in East London – they must provide a nurse and a support worker.

Meanwhile, plans to set up a similar facility in the south east have been temporarily abandoned.

HSJ understands the plan was outlined to local trust chiefs last week. The proposal set out to local leaders was that the most seriously ill patients needing intensive care would stay at hospitals in Kent and Sussex, but other patients who were not critically unwell could be transferred to the Excel.

One senior source familiar with the proposals said the proposal to transfer staff “did not sit comfortably with them,” due to growing staff shortages locally. Many hospitals in the region are already seeing as many as 20 per cent of staff absent due to the covid-19 outbreak.

Concerns were also raised that this could put additional pressure on ambulance services in the region as well.

An NHS England source confirmed discussions were underway about patients in the south east using the London Nightingale but stressed plans could change as the likely demand from different areas was balanced with the capacity available both in local trusts and the Nightingale.

Many trusts in the region have dramatically increased ICU beds and, at the moment, are coping well with the number of covid-19 patients needing care. Where capacity is being reached, trusts have transferred patients between themselves.

An NHS spokesman said: “Thanks to a huge effort from NHS staff… capacity exists both for those with coronavirus, and for others who need urgent and emergency treatment. The NHS Nightingale hospitals will provide additional capacity in excess of this on an as-needed basis, for anyone who clinicians think would benefit.”

Plans to set up a similar facility in the south east were temporarily abandoned last week after several sites were ruled out. One of these was the Kent Event Centre at Detling, near Maidstone, where army personnel were seen early last week.

One NHS source told HSJ the site was jettisoned at the very last moment. The NHS locally had wanted to use it for lower acuity patients, thus allowing trusts to provide more ventilated beds for sicker patients, but there was pressure to have ventilated beds at the site, the source said.

Some sites are still under consideration but time is now short if they are to be available at the peak of the crisis.

The NHS announced on Friday Headley Court, the former rehabilitation centre for injured military personnel, would be turned into a temporary community hospital including for covid-19 patients who do not require critical or acute hospital care. Work at the site should be completed later this month.