Elderly coronavirus patients in care homes should be evacuated to the empty Nightingale hospitals, MP demanded yesterday.
At least 7,500 elderly residents have died from coronavirus amidst warnings that the virus was a potential disaster for the caring sector.
Scientists initially warned the government that hospitals would not be able to cope with the influx of patients. The Nightingale hospitals were built as a response to these statements.
Speaking to Freddie Sayers of the Unherd website, Imperial University’s Dr Neil Ferguson repeated these claims saying: ‘We got quite close to (the NHS) being overwhelmed in the UK.’
A photo showing the empty interior of the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which is one of a network of seven sites providing surge capacity across England
‘At the peak a few weeks ago there were hospitals across London who could basically take no one else. But as a nation, we acted in time to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
‘You just need to talk to intensive care physicians in London where things got pretty close.’
Acting on this type of advice doctors told care home carers not to take residents to hospital if they fall ill. But the predictions that hospitals would be overrun may have been overstated.
Now Labour’s shadow minister for care and older people, Liz Kendall, is urging the Government not to waste any more time and to use empty Nightingale hospitals to stop the virus spreading among 500,000 residents and staff.
Despite the publicity surrounding them, the NHS Nightingale hospitals have treated very few patients
Ms Kendall said: ‘We have to provide alternative care. There’s a real urgent need to look at any spare capacity there is at facilities like the Nightingale hospitals to see if they can care for residents.
‘Care home staff are being asked to do extraordinary things. They’re very skilled – but we need to make sure that care homes are not turned into hospices because that’s not what they are there for.’
Mistakes Ms Kendall added: ‘The NHS has done very well on ramping up critical care bed capacity, emptying beds and changing care pathways so that there is extra capacity in hospitals.
‘If there is free capacity in the NHS, including in NHS Nightingale hospitals, the Government should explore whether elderly and disabled people with Covid could be treated there to help limit the spread of the virus in care homes.
More empty beds in an NHS Nightingale hospital despite the huge capacities they have
‘The failure of testing elderly people who have been discharged as well as the appalling lack of PPE for care homes is what has caused this terrible toll of deaths. The Government must do everything to make sure they do not repeat the mistakes of the past.’
The ten recently built emergency facilities, seven in England and one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have a total of 11,000 beds.
NHS England has refused to reveal how many beds are spare, however, London’s ExCel Centre Nightingale which has 4,000 beds has treated only 41 patients.
The make-shift field hospital has been branded a ‘waste of money’ and a ‘publicity stunt’ since it was built as so few patients have been treated in them.
Meanwhile, more than 7,500 OAPs are believed to have died in the UK in care homes since the pandemic hit with doctors warning them not to come to hospital if residents fall ill and GPs in some areas refusing to visit them.
A photo from NHS England of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and Humber
Staff have complained that a lack of PPE, the movement of agency staff between homes and years of austerity have exacerbated the crisis.
Daily death rate figures released by the NHS only count hospital deaths, which appear to be falling, but there are fears that the true number of deaths in care homes may soon outstrip these.
Labour MP Peter Kyle, who has campaigned to highlight this crisis, said: ‘I’m in touch with many care homes and they are telling me their biggest stress is when someone becomes symptomatic as it’s almost impossible to isolate everyone.
‘Remember that some people in nursing homes and care homes will have varying degrees of dementia.
An NHS worker outside the Nightingale Emergency Hospital London
‘Without using inhumane and probably illegal methods of restraint it’s simply not possible to isolate them in the way you would others. Therefore people who are symptomatic need to be distanced effectively.
If that means being creative and using Nightingale hospitals, what’s stopping us? During this crisis, hospitals have been allowed to re-invent themselves, while care homes are in a straitjacket.’
Melanie Henwood, an independent health and social care consultant, said: ‘Increasingly, it is being reported GPs are not visiting care homes and that residents who become infected will not be taken to hospital.’
Care industry chiefs are now calling for elderly patients being discharged from hospital to be sent to sites like the Nightingale before going to homes to limit the risk of infection.
Nadra Ahmed, from the National Care Association, said: ‘It’s a sensible move. It’s one that would allay fears as well as protect people. That way at least we would know that people moving into the care services are Covid-19 free.’