Hospital canteens and car parks could be transformed into Covid wards to tackle omicron wave

Hospital canteens, car parks and meeting rooms could be turned into wards if the health service is overwhelmed by the omicron variant, NHS England has told health bosses. 

In a series of conference calls on Tuesday, the health service updated hospital chiefs on plans to keep capacity high in the event of greater numbers of hospitalisations due to the virus.

The plans, reported by Health Service Journal, would only be implemented if the new variant leads to greater numbers of patients needing treatment than during last January’s peak.

The makeshift wards, described as “lots of little Nightingales” would see areas where up to 100 would be cared for.

Regional number of Omicron Covid cases in England [Map]

It is understood that they would be used to treat those who are the least sick, while the existing specialist wards for hospitals would deal with the worst affected – such as those who need oxygen and ventilators to aid breathing.

The regional conference calls said that army medical staff would be involved in the facilities, though formal requests for help have not been made yet.

Those without clinical experience who work for local clinical commissioning groups will also be asked to help.

Earlier in the week, Sajid Javid had told Cabinet colleagues that plans were already under way to create “on-site Nightingales”, which are smaller versions of the pop-up hospitals created at the start of the pandemic which have since been shut down.

The plans for non-hospital staff to run pop-up wards to increase capacity come as the health service struggles with its own levels of staffing.

How is omicron comparing to previous waves?

On Wednesday, the Royal College of Physicians revealed that as many as one in 13 doctors are off work due to Covid, with London seeing the worst rate of absences. The Royal College described as “the worst we’ve seen during the pandemic” while PPE has been available.

Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: “Today, we have a tired and demoralised workforce that has been managing the impact of the pandemic for almost two years, we are trying to deliver as much non-Covid care as possible and we have the usual winter rise in other respiratory conditions.

“NHS colleagues will always be ready to do what is needed, but we needn’t be in this situation.

“If we had proper NHS workforce planning, taking into account current and likely future demand, I predict we would have many more thousand doctors, nurses and other clinicians.

“As we don’t have that capacity, we urge everyone to arrange to have their vaccinations and boosters as soon as possible.

NHS England was contacted for comment.

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