Inside the NHS Nightingale Exeter ready for second wave of covid

The Government announced on Friday that £3billion would be made available to help the NHS cope with a second wave in the autumn. The NHE, which is housed in the former Homebase store on the Sowton Industrial Estate, has a lease until April.

Paul Greaves www.devonlive.com

Exeter’s £23million NHS Nightingale Hospital will be given a new injection of cash to help to clear the backlog of seriously ill people caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Health bosses have given a first glimpse inside the new hospital which was designed to cope with an expected surge of COVID-19 patients but has now been repurposed for those needing other treatments, particularly cancer testing.

It has already begun to take its first patients – and on Friday was promised extra Government cash to prepare it for a second wave of coronavirus should it happen in the autumn.

Until then, the five new treatment wards and 116 beds will be used for diagnostic testing. A CT scanner will see more than 2,000 patients scanned within a 12 week period, targeting those with the longest waiting times across the whole of Devon and Cornwall.

NHS Nightingale Hospitals were set set up in response to what happened when the coronavirus tore through Northern Italy in March. The UK Government feared there would not be enough space in local hospitals here should the pandemic prove as deadly.

Dr Rob Dyer, strategic medical director, said the Nightingale Exeter was part of the planning for a worst case coronavirus scenario. But while cases remain low the hospital would be used for other purposes.

He said: “The number of people with covid in Devon and Cornwall at the moment is quite low so its not necessary to open for covid patients. What we’re doing is looking at how we can use the facility to its best in the period between then and now. The CT scanner is the first of those efforts.”

He said the hospital has been designed to be flexible in its use and will, more generally, provide additional patient capacity within the health system.

The five wards include two intensive care units with ventilators for seriously ill patients. Areas within the hospital are colour-coded as part of a carefully designed covid infection protection plan.

“The primary purpose of the Nightingale is of course for treating COVID patients,” said Dr Dyer. “We have to be ready at any time to change focus onto looking after those patients so within seven days we can stand it up to deal with significant numbers of covid patients.

“We don’t know of course whether we’ll get another surge, perhaps more likely it will be a steady increase in covid patients.

“Until then we’re using the unit as part of the whole system response to managing those patients, coordinating with the other hospitals to work out what’s the right time to start admitting people.”

Devon and Cornwall has the lowest number of coronavirus patients in hospital in the country. Currently there are believed to be only four across the two counties.

The Government announced on Friday that £3billion would be made available to help the NHS cope with a second wave in the autumn. The NHE, which is housed in the former Homebase store on the Sowton Industrial Estate, has a lease until April.

Dr Dyer said it remained to be seen where the extra money would be spent but the hospital is expected to remain in operation beyond April.

“It’s a great, well designed, flexible facility which I’m sure can be used for all sorts of purposes and we’re looking at how we can make the most of it for the next few years,” he said.

The hospital has not yet been needed to treat coronavirus patients.

Dr Rob Dyer, Strategic Medical Director and Chantal Baker, Assistant Director of Nursing

It is one of seven NHS Nightingale Hospitals across the country, joining others in Bristol, Birmingham, Harrogate, London, Manchester and Sunderland.

Nearly 140 staff have now been inducted and are ready to work in NHE. They will remain in their home trusts, using their skills to support patients across Devon until NHE is needed. More than 400 staff from hospitals across Devon and Cornwall will work there.