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NHS officials have sought to play down reports of coronavirus patients being turned away from the Nightingale Hospital in London due to a shortage of nurses.
The Guardian newspaper reported that 30 planned patient transfers to the temporary facility from established hospitals in the capital had been cancelled due to staffing issues.
“The government and NHS should be transparent about the staffing policies for the Nightingales”
The outlet quoted sources claiming that the main problem at Nightingale London, which is based at the ExCel exhibition centre and is one of seven Covid-19 overflow units planned for England, was shortages of critical care nurses.
However, officials at NHS London stressed that additional nurses for the Nightingale were on stand-by but were not needed at present because capacity remained available in established hospitals.
They said the temporary hospital was designed as a safety net to take patients only if beds became full in the permanent sites, which is yet to happen.
Nursing Times is aware of concerns among some influential members of the profession about a lack of openness surrounding the details of how the high-profile field hospital is being operated.
The report from the Guardian has led to calls from unions for clearer transparency over the approach to staffing the Nightingale units.
Stuart Tuckwood, national nursing officer at the union Unison, told Nursing Times: “The government and NHS should be transparent about the staffing policies for the Nightingales.
“We’re looking for the government to deliver on its commitments to involve unions in discussions about deployment and safe working practices for staff in these centres.”
He said having clear communications would help unions give “reassurances to staff” at a time of huge pressure and anxiety.
“You cannot make fully trained ICU nurses overnight no matter how much money you throw at it”
In addition, Mr Tuckwood said the “highly specialised” nature of critical care nursing needed to be fully considered in the workforce planning the temporary hospitals.
“It’d be great news if we didn’t end up requiring this additional critical care capacity and we understand the use of these hospitals may change depending on requirements,” said Mr Tuckwood.
Critical care nursing leaders have warned since planning began to drastically expand intensive care capacity that shortages of specialised nurses threatened plans.
To cope, recommended staffing ratios of one nurse per patient in intensive care have had to be dropped in favour of a team-based approach.
Reacting to the Guardian story on Twitter, Nicki Credland, chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses, said: “As I have said numerous times you cannot make fully trained ICU nurses overnight no matter how much money you throw at it.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for NHS London said: “The most important point about staff at the Nightingale is that thanks to their care and expertise, patients in that hospital are being successfully treated, discharged and ultimately having their life saved.
“There remains spare capacity in the critical care network across the capital to look after all coronavirus patients and others who need our care, and while it is incredibly reassuring for both staff and patients to have backup capacity at the Nightingale to alleviate pressure on ICU departments where needed, patients can be transferred to other hospitals in the city if they are better placed to receive them at that time – as is always the case.”
Nursing Times approached the Department of Health and Social Care for a comment on the Guardian report, but it said it was the remit of the NHS to comment on such matters.