Council launches probe into why Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate was never used to treat Covid-19 patients

NHS officials are being called up for questioning as part of a new probe into why the Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and Humber has not been used to treat coronavirus patients.

Members of the West Yorkshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee have today launched an investigation into whether the 500-bed temporary hospital at Harrogate Convention Centre would have had enough NHS staff to be able to operate if it was needed.

It comes after Coun Jim Clark, the chairman of North Yorkshire County Council, made a call for a public inquiry into the £27m emergency unit which will close next month.

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But it was agreed by the health committee today that they would instead take their own line of questioning and ask NHS officials to give evidence on where the doctors and nurses would have come from.

The Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate
The Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate

Coun Clark, who also represents the Harrogate Harlow ward on the borough council, told the committee there are “questions to be answered” and “lessons we can learn” around the Nightingale.

He said: “We need to know how we would have staffed it, what capacity it would have been able to provide, where the staff would have come from and what effect that would have had on services within the rest of Yorkshire.

“We should remember at the same time that the reason we have not needed to use the Nightingale was because of the tremendous work done by the frontline staff in our other hospitals who have had a very difficult and trying time.”

The temporary hospital was opened by Captain Sir Tom Moore 10 months ago and while it has not treated any coronavirus patients, it has been used to carry out non-coronavirus diagnostic tests and outpatient appointments.

Leading figures in healthcare professions have previously voiced concerns that the UK’s seven Nightingale hospitals would have not be able to operate fully due to a lack of staff, however, officials behind the Harrogate facility have continually insisted it would have been able to open.

Anthony Kealy, NHS England director in West Yorkshire, previously described the facility as an “insurance policy” to cope with Covid patients when hospitals could not and said it was a “success” that it was not needed.

It was announced last month that the Nightingale will close in April, although there are still questions around when the dismantling will start and how much it will cost.

Members of the West Yorkshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee had previously made calls for the hospital to be kept open until now and also made a suggestion for it to be used as a mass vaccination centre.

Mike Lodge, senior scrutiny support officer, told today’s meeting that the committee would next meet on 22 June when NHS officials could begin giving evidence as part of the investigation.

Coun Clark added: “It is important that we look at these issues while they are still fresh in our minds. While we are pleased we did not have to use the facility, we can learn lessons so that if we ever have to do this again we would be able to build on the knowledge we have.”