Nightingale hospitals built to relieve Covid strain on the NHS are lying empty or hardly being used

NIGHTINGALE hospitals built to relieve Covid strain on the NHS are lying empty or hardly being used, a Sun on Sunday probe has found.

Photos from the sites across the UK show them empty or deserted.

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One MP has slammed it as ‘shocking’ and ‘terrible’ and called for them to be brought back into use.

And Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We’re heading into the next NHS coronavirus crisis with hospital wards struggling without enough doctors, nurses and health care staff.

“It’s all very well Ministers telling us they have Nightingales but if they can’t sufficiently staff existing wards how can they guarantee enough doctors and nurses at the Nightingales?

“Sadly our health and care service is trying to cope on the back of years of Tory cutbacks and understaffing.”

Even in London – where NHS hospitals are reaching breaking point – NHS bosses only have the ExCeL centre “on standby”.

NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers report a shortage of 87,000 staff.

NHS England said the London, Birmingham and Sunderland hospitals are on standby, Manchester is open for “non-Covid care”, Exeter and Harrogate as “specialist diagnostics ­centres”, and Bristol for “local NHS services”.

Shockingly, NHS England has refused to say how many people have been treated at each of the Nightingale hospitals.

The Sun on Sunday visited Birmingham, Sunderland, Bristol and Manchester this week and there was no sign of medical activity – but plenty of security.

When The Sun visited Birmingham it was deserted with no sign of a hospital ever having been there – apart from the signage. Floors remained empty where hospital beds once were for the expected arrival of patients.  


A security guard at Birmingham told us: “You want the Nightingale? It’s not open, not yet.”

There are signs for the hospital at the NEC bus station and train station – but apparently none have ever gone there. 

When you arrive at the hospital there are plenty of signs – one reading “Atrium centrenace 1” which announces with a blue NHS logo “Nightingale Hospital Birmingham”. 

But there are just empty rooms with no people or ambulances.

In Bristol, people told us there had been no sign of patients. Hospitals in the region have experienced a bigger strain during the second wave of the pandemic, with Bristol hospitals declaring “internal critical incidents” and recording record numbers of Covid patients.

On November 25, an NHS Nightingale Bristol spokesperson said the 300-bed hospital will now be used to provide additional capacity for Bristol Eye Hospital and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. But there was little sign of life over a two-day visit this week. 

Sunderland’s was eerily empty during a look on Friday. Only eight cars and one motorcycle were in the car park during daylight, leaving countless spaces left unoccupied.

There were no signs of any ambulances or health care workers. The gates to the entrance for ambulances remained locked up, with no sign of any healthcare vehicle on the premises.

One of the few signs of life came when a Royal Mail postman passed through the barriers to drop off a delivery at the main entrance. Later, a maintenance man arrived at the site but left after no more than five minutes.

Inside the 16-ward building, one half of the top floor appeared in total darkness, while a small handful of workers could be seen sitting around a table, talking on the other side.


About three or four guards took turns to patrol the gated entrance, where they worked very quietly and without much to distract them.

At Manchester, the only sign of staff were again security guards. There was very little sign of activity at the hospital on Thursday afternoon.

At the front, where the ambulance entrance is, three security staff in high-viz jackets stood around a small portakabin chatting. 

A lady did approach the entrance to speak to them at one stage but after a brief discussion she went away and didn’t go inside the hospital.

No ambulances or other vehicles entered the hospital and none left via the front entrance.

In response, Dr Carol Cooper said: “Just a few months ago, Nightingale hospitals were the pride of the NHS, and now they lie mostly empty. They cost considerable money and should be used for patient care, as was intended.

“A shortage of inpatient beds is already causing huge problems. Waiting times are up in A&E, and there’s been a worrying rise in patients waiting 12 hours or more, often on trolleys. Trolley care isn’t just undignified. It’s also dangerous and unhygienic. And it shouldn’t be tolerated.

“With the R number up and Christmas on the way, Covid-19 cases are expected to rise further and there could soon be an even higher need for more beds. What’s the snag with using Nightingale hospitals to the full?

“The obvious answer is that hospital beds need staff – not just clinical staff like doctors and nurses, but lab support, cleaners, and so on. That’s where the shortages lie.

“There’s no easy answer, but Nightingale hospitals need to be put to good use before someone starts mentioning expensive white elephants.”

Local Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said: “This is shocking. We need these hospitals open and providing much needed care and value for money.

“The NHS demand across the country is bursting at the seams. Yet these all remain largely empty. There are a lot of people who need cancer treatment, transplants and operations but they’re on waiting lists.

“Many people with serious illnesses such as cancer and in need of operations and transplants are being forgotten. These Nightingale hospitals need to be staffed properly. That’s the letdown.

“These Nightingale hospitals should be specialist for Covid. Birmingham’s is totally closed. They should be for purely Covid, else what’s the point?

“What’s the delay? They’re being left empty. It’s a total waste of resources and money. Serious questions need to be asked as to why they are not being used.”

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One nurse told us: “There simply isn’t enough staff. We’re under resourced and overworked. 

“It’s disheartening seeing the Nightingale hospitals empty. We really thought they would free up our workload. They are white elephants.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The Manchester and Exeter Nightingales are both admitting patients and all of the Nightingales in England are ready to support resilience in the NHS, with some already being used for outpatients, diagnostics, and scans, and some being prepared for additional use as large scale covid vaccination centres.”

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