Covid-19: Plans to 'temporarily' stand down Nightingale hospital
PLANS to "temporarily stand down" Northern Ireland's Nightingale hospital are at an advanced stage as the number of patient admissions plummet.
Sources told The Irish News that with just 12 coronavirus patients in ICU yesterday and a further 13 recovering in a 'step down' ward at the specialist facility based at Belfast City Hospital, proposals are being drawn up to transfer to other hospitals.
It is understood senior Belfast trust managers were informed earlier this week that the former Regional Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital will be used for Covid-19 along with an infectious diseases ward as part of 'third wave' plans.
Sources last night said health officials were planning for transfers once recovered Nightingale patients are discharged and ventilated patients improve, with the facility "temporarily stood down".
A spokesman for the Belfast trust last night said that while there are "no current plans" to stand down the facility, he confirmed they are "reviewing the use of the recently vacated RICU (at the Royal) as a Covid ICU" as part of "planning for a third Covid surge".
"This potentially would allow the Belfast City Hospital site to remain as a protected elective surgical site, for longer, before the BCH would have to stand up the Nightingale ICU again," he added.
The trust said it "continues to care for patients with Covid in the ICU and stepdown ward in BCH".
Nightingale has capacity to treat more than 150 patients from across the north in the event of an "extreme surge". It opened in April as one of 10 specially designated hospitals across the NHS. However, it was stood down a month later due to low patient numbers.
Last week The Irish News revealed leaked photographs from inside Belfast's 11-storey Nightingale, which showed some wards used as storage spaces - while others remain unopened amid concerns about severe nursing shortages.
Cardboard boxes, drip stands, trolleys and chairs were crammed into ward spaces where patients should be.
A 24-bedded Covid ICU ward in Nightingale - ready since August - has never opened, which whistleblowers said was linked to depleted nursing levels.
Five levels of the enormous hospital, which are normally used for gynaecology operations as well as cardiology, urology and dermatology procedures, are closed - with services transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Some wards are partially open, while day cases including dialysis are continuing.
Life-saving kidney transplants were also carried out in a separate part of the former City Hospital Towerblock, which have been suspended.
Last month it emerged 15 ICU nurses have resigned from the Belfast trust in the past six months, with serious concerns raised about less experienced staff redeployed to the specialist hospital.
Pat Cullen, director of the Royal College of Nursing, claimed conditions were "unsafe", which has been strenuously denied by the trust.
Meanwhile, health minister Robin Swann has confirmed that the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) in Enniskillen will be used to carry out many planned surgeries suspended at other sites, including Belfast City Hospital.