Inside the new Nightingale Hospital North East - where health bosses hope they will never have to treat a patient
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The 460-bed hospital, which will open near Nissan’s Washington plant in an industrial unit bigger than a football pitch, is an ‘insurance policy’ and should reassure the public that the North East is ready to fight the coronavirus.
Following two-and-a-half weeks of round-the-clock work, the Nightingale Hospital North East is on track to open at the end of April – but will only start taking patients if the region’s hospitals are unable to cope with a potential surge of Covid-19 cases which require hospital treatment.
The building which now houses the hospital will eventually become home to the Centre of Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (CeSAM).
Last month, the building was ‘almost finished’ but empty – making it the perfect site for a quick turnaround.
It has now been transformed into a 20-ward hospital, including eight intensive care wards, and gives the North East the capacity to care for another 460 coronavirus patients if hospitals are filled.
The Sunderland-based hospital is unique in the fact that while there will be 130 intensive care beds, every bed in the hospital could also become an intensive care bed if needed, as all wards will have the necessary equipment.
When the hospital opens, it aims to have 130 ventilators in place for the first phase.
Up to 2,500 staff members could be working at the hospital if it reaches full capacity.
Martin Wilson, executive lead of NHS Nightingale North East, said: “We’re building this hospital as an insurance policy and hope that it will never be required.
“The more that we can all do to socially distance and reduce the chances of Covid-19 spreading from one person to the other would reduce the likelihood that we would ever need to open this facility.
“Our real hope is that we never need to open it.”
He added: “I’m really proud of all my colleagues across the NHS and we’ve had some great contractors working around the clock to make this, what I think, will probably be the best of the Nightingale hospitals anywhere in the country."
So far health chiefs say the region’s hospitals are coping well with the number of patients and they are far from reaching capacity.
Gordon Elder, nursing lead for NHS North East, said: “We haven’t reached anywhere near our capacity yet and hospitals around the region are doing an amazing job. For our critical care capacity we still have quite a lot left and we still have ward capacity as well.
“That is the uncertainty about this virus – we may never need to use Nightingale, and that would be the best outcome, but we need to be prepared because we just don’t know yet.
“If people have done exactly what we’ve asked them to do, which it looks like they might have done, is that they are staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives then we might have curbed the spread of the virus or at least slowed it down which means we can deal with our capacity in our local hospitals.”
Addressing those who question why a hospital which may never be used has been built, Mr Elder added: “I would rather be standing here explaining to you why we didn’t use this hospital than explaining that we needed it and we didn’t have the beds for patients.”