London’s Nightingale hospital remains on standby for use, NHS England has insisted, despite the removal of some equipment from the site.
England’s hospitals are currently seeing more Covid-19 patients than at the first-wave peak of the virus in April.
NHS England sent a letter to trusts on December 23 asking them to plan for the use of additional facilities such as the seven Nightingale hospitals, amid rising numbers of patients with the virus.
The Nightingale hospital sites across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter, Birmingham and London.
It is understood some equipment which was initially at the ExCel centre site in the capital when it opened in April is no longer there.
Beds and ventilators have been removed, the Daily Telegraph reported.
A spokesperson for the NHS said: “The Nightingale in London remains on standby and will be available to support the capital’s hospitals if needed.
“In the meantime it is vital that Londoners do everything possible to reduce transmission and cut the number of new infections which otherwise inevitably result in more avoidable deaths.”
A spokeswoman said NHS Nightingale North West Hospital – which opened at the end of October for use by non-Covid patients – remains open and “is supporting patient flow across the region’s hospitals”.
NHS England had no update on the status of the other Nightingale sites on Tuesday.
Concerns have been raised around the already-stretched health service’s ability to staff Nightingale facilities.
Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “It is not ‘just the case’ of using the Nightingale hospital as there are simply no staff for them to run as they were originally intended (mini intensive care units).
“They could play a role perhaps if used as rehabilitation units for those recovering but, again, where do we find the specialist staff – the NHS simply does not have the capacity to spare anyone.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Nightingale hospitals had been opened “at great expense and fanfare”.
The Labour MP tweeted: “But the reality is years of Tory failures to invest in training and staffing has left NHS short of staff needed.”
The NHS Nightingale hospital in Exeter received its first coronavirus patients in November.
The 116-bed hospital, built on the site of a former retail site, was set up to provide extra capacity to support existing NHS services across the south west.
It began accepting patients last month with Covid-19 who had been transferred from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, which was described as “very busy”.
NHS Nightingale Bristol announced in November that it would assess and treat non-Covid-19 day patients, while on standby.
Additional Reporting By The Press Association