New details emerge as NHS formally announces plans to turn Harrogate Convention Centre into Nightingale hospital in fight against coronavirus

Harrogate’s frontline role in fighting the coronavirus pandemic has been nationally elevated, with NHS England formally confirming today that the town’s Convention Centre is being rapidly transformed into a dedicated NHS Nightingale hospital - and in doing so revealing new details of the plans.

The centre has already been a visible hive of activity this week, with the arrival of security guards wearing protective masks, army officials and scores of construction workers. The managing director of the HRH Group, which owns a number of hotels and businesses in Harrogate and York, had also confirmed to the Harrogate Advertiser that the town’s White Hart hotel is being used to house soldiers and staff who are working on the transformation.

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Now, the highly-anticipated formal announcement has been made by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and Health Secretary Matt Hancock. It comes ahead of the first NHS Nightingale hospital at London’s Excel centre being officially opened today.

The centre has already been a visible hive of activity this week, with the arrival of security guards wearing protective masks, army officials and scores of construction workers. Picture: Gerard Binks.

The new hospital, established in under a fortnight, will be available as soon as patients across London and the south of England need it. Further such hospitals will open next in Birmingham and Manchester, offering up to 3,000 beds between them, if they are needed, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Beyond that, the next will be at the University of the West of England, Bristol - able to look after up to 1,000 patients - while the one at Harrogate Convention centre will be able to care for up to 500.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, said: “It’s nothing short of extraordinary that this new hospital in London has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight.

“The NHS, working with the military, has done in a matter of days what usually takes years. Now we are gearing up to repeat that feat at another four sites across the country to add to the surge capacity in current NHS hospitals.

Contractors working to turn Harrogate Convention Centre into a hospital for coronavirus patients. Picture: Gerard Binks.

“We're giving the go ahead to these additional sites, hoping they may not be needing but preparing in case they are. But that will partly depend on continuing public support for measures to reduce growth in the infection rate by staying at home to save lives.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The nation is facing an unprecedented global emergency and we are taking exceptional measures to ensure the NHS has whatever it needs to tackle this virus.

“The NHS and the military have achieved something extraordinary in setting up NHS Nightingale, London in only a matter of days. It is testament to their hard work and dedication that an additional four hospitals will be rolled out across the nation.

“We must all play our part to assist our heroes on the health and social care frontline and I urge everyone to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Harrogate Convention Centre's director Paula Lorimer said it is vital for the town to do its bit by stepping up to support and accommodate the many frontline staff and key workers making the Nightingale hospital a reality.

She said: "At Harrogate Convention Centre, we are proud to support the NHS and are enormously grateful to, and in awe of, our health and care professionals. They are truly heroic in responding to COVID 19.

"We, and no doubt the entire town, will do all we can to support their efforts. We are working closely with our partners and colleagues at Harrogate Borough Council, and I thank them for their support and clear direction on ensuring the challenge of transforming our building is met swiftly.

"I would also like to thank all of the staff at the venue, who without hesitation came back to their posts to ensure the Nightingale Harrogate Hospital will open on time.

"For all those we work with in our town, we know you will do your utmost to accommodate and support the frontline staff who will be playing such a vital role in the battle against COVID-19.

"We are sure the Harrogate community will welcome the hard-working doctors, nurses, health professionals and support workers during this difficult time. Once this crisis is over, we will all want to look back with pride in how we responded."