Soldiers will have to be drafted in to help staff make-shift 'Nightingale' wards

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Construction workers begin erecting ‘Nightingale’ wards in hospital car parks as NHS goes on ‘war footing’ to tackle Omicron wave… but health chiefs warn they can’t ‘magic up’ staff to oversee the eight temporary sites

NHS chiefs last night announced eight hospitals in England will start building temporary structures this week to house up to 100 Covid patients each. Work has already started at St George’s Hospital in South London and the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent.

The overspill sites — which could also be erected in canteens and gyms if needed in the coming weeks — will be equipped with beds and machines for patients who still need minor treatment.

The drive forms part of a new NHS ‘war footing’ to tackle the Omicron wave, which is starting to pile pressure on hospitals.  

ST GEORGE'S HOSPITAL, SOUTH LONDON: Construction workers began erecting a temporary field hospital in the grounds of St George's Hospital in Tooting today

But questions have already been raised as to how the units will be manned amid the spiralling rates of absences among the health service coupled with the 100,000-plus vacancies before Covid struck. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers — which represents hospital trusts — said staffing the makeshift wards posed a ‘major challenge’ and that ‘you can’t just magic up the number of staff that are needed to staff these beds out of thin air’.

WILLIAM HARVEY HOSPITAL IN ASHFORD, KENT: Pictured above is construction work beginning on the William Harvey 'mini-Nightingale' hospital, situated in the site's car park

He added, however, that having the facilities on existing hospital grounds ‘maximises the NHS’s ability to meet that challenge’ and that he expects volunteers will be called in if the sites were needed to be used.

Meanwhile, Pat Cullen, from the Royal College of Nursing, warned that it would mean nursing resources are ‘spread thinner’. She said that she had ‘no idea’ how the hubs would be staffed. 

Trade site the Health Service Journal revealed the plans for more ‘mini-Nightingales’ before Christmas. It said at the time that army medical personnel could be called in to help, although the formal request was yet to be made.

The Nightingale hospitals will be staffed by nurses and consultants, as well as clinical and non-clinical staff. 

It is not clear whether this would include soldiers, but NHS sources told MailOnline that the Army are always drafted in when required. 

The ‘mini-Nightingales’ will be scattered around the country, with sites based in London, Bristol, Leeds, Kent and Leicester among others. 

In contrast to the first wave — when facilities such as London’s ExCel centre were converted into giant hospitals — the ‘Nightingale hubs’ will be situated on existing hospital grounds.

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