Exclusive: Government under fire as it is revealed only three of the hospitals ever treated Covid patients.
Only three of England’s seven Nightingale hospitals have ever been used to treat Covid patients – despite costing the taxpayer more than £500m to set-up and keep on standby, HuffPost UK can reveal.
An investigation by this website has shown just how underused the landmark hospitals have been – with the government under fire for overseeing a programme described as a “massive white elephant” from the start.
We found four of the Nightingales, opened during the first wave of the pandemic, have never treated people with Covid-19 despite the government’s promises the hospitals would provide vital overflow capacity for the NHS.
And only two of the hospitals have been used to treat Covid patients in the current deadly second wave – despite Covid-19 alert levels being raised to five due to a material risk of the NHS being overwhelmed and patients being moved out of London from full hospital wards.
We can also reveal just how costly the Nightingales have been, with the set-up bill totalling up to £1.27m per inpatient as of January, according to figures we collated.
Justin Madders MP, shadow health minister, said: “It seems, from the information that has been gathered, that the Nightingales were criminally underused and were a massive white elephant conjured up by [health secretary] Matt Hancock to create a good headline without any real thought having gone into how they could best be used and whether they would be properly staffed.”
Medical unions also slammed the government’s failure to heed warnings there were never enough critical care staff to run the Nightingales from the outset.
Dr Claudia Paolini, president of HCSA, said: “They were effectively deployed as a political symbol to show that something was being done at a time when the government was failing so dismally at the things we really needed, such as PPE to protect staff or quicker actions on lockdowns.”
NHS England has robustly defended the Nightingales, saying they were “the ultimate insurance policy” in case existing hospital capacity was overwhelmed.
But our investigation reveals the hospitals were barely used during the first wave of the pandemic, when hundreds of lives were being lost daily, and even during the current second wave were not significantly mobilised for Covid-19 care despite being ready and on standby.
The findings, obtained using Freedom of Information requests (FOI), show only 272 inpatients were treated at the Nightingales up until January of this year.