Britain plans field hospitals to meet omicron surge

Cases in
Britain reached new highs this week, driven by the highly transmissible omicron
variant, with more than 183,000 reported across the country Wednesday — twice
the highest daily count recorded in previous waves. And public health experts
have said it is likely to be days before the full impact of socialising over
the Christmas holidays is reflected.

“We do not
yet know exactly how many of those who catch the virus will need hospital
treatment,” Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director for England, said in a
statement. “But given the number of infections we cannot wait to find out
before we act.”

In the
statement, the service outlined plans for temporary wards in England, called
“Nightingale hubs,” in response to the surge in omicron cases. The first eight,
each capable of housing around 100 patients, are to be built on the grounds of
hospitals, where they will serve as overflow facilities for people too ill to
be discharged but in need of lower levels of support and monitoring.

represents a change in strategy from the seven “Nightingale hospitals” that
Britain built during its first COVID wave — facilities that were designed to
handle thousands of patients on ventilators at convention centers and other
large sites. The facilities were closed in the spring after treating relatively
few people.

“We hoped
never to have to use the original Nightingales, and I hope we never to have to
use these new hubs,” Powis said.

Work on the
eight initial hubs will begin as early as next week, the statement said, adding
that hospitals had been asked to identify areas that could be converted to
accommodate patients, like gyms and education centers, with the aim of
providing up to 4,000 so-called “super surge” beds across the country.

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coronavirus cases rise, hospitals have been advised to expedite the discharge
of patients who were medically able, and the health service said that hospitals
have been using hotels, hospice centres and nursing homes to accommodate them.

Sajid Javid,
Britain’s health minister, said that while he, too, hoped the surge hubs at
hospitals would not have to be used, “it is absolutely right that we prepare
for all scenarios and increase capacity.”

© 2022 The
New York Times Company

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