It’s April 2020, and since March, the UK has swiftly commissioned and built vast, temporary, intensive care hospitals, in readiness for a predicted epidemic number of severe COVID-19 cases.
They are called NHS Nightingale Hospitals, and to date there are seven of them, either open or planned. The first one was announced on 24 March by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and was opened almost immediately on 3 April at the London Excel Centre. It has a capacity of some 4,000 beds. The other temporary field hospital sites are in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol, Exeter, Harrogate, and Washington.
Additionally, over the last month, some 8,000 beds in private hospitals have been re-assigned for Covid-19 use, along with other NHS beds in hospitals all over the UK. By the beginning of April, one third of all non-ICU NHS beds had been converted into potential ICU beds for possible Covid-19 patients. Yet, by 12 April, the London Nightingale had treated just 19 patients, and to date, only 41 patients have been treated.
This sudden blitz is both unusual and unprecedented. We regularly have seasonal infectious illnesses spread throughout the population; in fact in recent years, some of these epidemic diseases were also predicted well in advance. Yet no new mega-hospitals, temporary or otherwise, were ever built to cope with them, nor were they seen to be needed. Why now?