Nightingale Approach 'Could Ease NHS Backlog' 

Peter Russell

July 03, 2020

Two NHS Nightingale hospitals set up to deal with cases of COVID-19 will be converted to other health facilities, including cancer testing centres, it has been revealed.

Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said that the 200-bed Exeter Nightingale site would begin offering screening for patients from Monday 6th July to help with a growing backlog.

The 500-bed Nightingale Hospital at Harrogate Convention Centre began offering CT scans on 4th June.

Nightingale hospitals were set up earlier this year in case hospitals and intensive care units were overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients during the pandemic.

An 'Opportunity and Necessity'

Speaking at the Commons Health and Social Care Committee inquiry into delivering core NHS and care services during the pandemic and beyond, Sir Simon Stevens, acknowledged that a new style approach was needed.

He told MPs: "It is taking a Nightingale-type approach, if you like, to new dedicated diagnostic facilities.

"The first of those is going to be the Exeter Nightingale, which we are going to partly repurpose for non-COVID CT scanning."

Sir Simon said it was "an opportunity and a necessity, quite frankly, to do something quite different in diagnostics".

He said: "We have to expand diagnostic capacity. We also have to do it in new ways. That will be particularly true for endoscopy" and would be "very relevant for cancer care, particularly bowel cancer services".

Extra Facilities 'Needed'

The wide-ranging inquiry also heard from Chris Hopson, chief executive at NHS Providers, who told the committee: "We need to keep the Nightingales in some form. 

"There has been very clear recognition that we simply do not have enough general and acute beds. We need to have that extra bed capacity better funded."

He said on top of an existing patient need, there was now an increasing demand as a result of COVID-19, along with capacity constraints such as the need to ensure effective infection control. He said that trusts had reported they had lost "somewhere between 20% to 40% of the capacity they had before COVID".

Prof Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said doctors held a pessimistic view of how health services might return to normal. He said: "70% do not think we will be back to where we need to be in 12 months' time and 39% think it will be longer than 18 months. 

"That is quite a long timeframe."

He warned that the next winter could be tough. "We could be hit with the double whammy of a big flu season and a big second wave from COVID. How much that is going to impact on our ability to catch up with where we have fallen behind during COVID is perhaps people's biggest concern."

NHS staff would also have to contend with exhaustion from working in unprecedented times, he cautioned: "There is a mountain that people know they have to climb; they are willing to climb it and willing to pull together to do it, but it seems quite a large mountain at the moment," he told the committee.

Commenting on the development, Prof Karol Sikora, who comments on cancer issues for Medscape UK, said on Twitter that converting the Nightingale Hospital into a cancer centre was "a good step in the right direction".

He added: "Equally important is giving people the confidence to get checked, early diagnosis is so crucial."


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