Why is Harrogate's NHS Nightingale hospital not being used?
Harrogate's Nightingale hospital will be used if needed according to NHS officials - but why is it not being brought into action now?
There is mounting pressure on hospitals, with growing numbers being admitted each week as the third wave of coronavirus continues to take an ever greater toll on our health service.
In North Yorkshire alone, there are more than 500 people in hospital with the deadly disease - a figure which has risen week-on-week since Christmas.
The growing pressure has prompted many to start wondering why Harrogate's 500-bed Nightingale has not been opened. After all, it was built to cope when hospitals could not.
The temporary hospital at the council-owned Harrogate Convention Centre is technically open because it is being used to carry out non-coronavirus diagnostic tests and outpatient appointments.
However, since first opening nine months ago, it has not treated a single Covid-19 patient.
This, of course, is a good thing as it means our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. But how much more pressure do they need to take before the Nightingale is brought into action?
When asked that question, an NHS spokesperson said the Nightingale is "ready to quickly step up based on expert clinical advice if needed."
The spokesperson also described the £27million hospital as a "valuable resource to support the local area" and said it "remains on standby".
With hundreds of doctors, nursers and other healthcare staff off work due to Covid, the NHS was also asked - but failed to answer - where the workers would come from if the hospital was needed.
These are the concerns of leading figures in healthcare professions who have warned the UK's seven Nightingale hospitals would not be able to operate fully due to a lack of staff.
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, said medical staff at regular hospitals were already “on the brink” as they deal with record numbers of Covid patients on top of annual winter pressures.
The government has insisted the UK's seven Nightingales were built as an insurance option - to be used as a last resort.
And the hope is hospitals may soon be passing peak pressure from the third of wave infections. With the vaccine roll-out accelerating at record pace, it is also hoped all vulnerable populations will soon be protected against the virus.
This could mean if Harrogate's Nightingale is not used now, it may well never be - something Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper said he hopes will be the case.
He said: "Our contract officially ends with the NHS on 31 March and the Convention Centre is to be returned to us ready for conferences and exhibitions to resume.
“However, if the conference and exhibition industry more generally remains closed – or basically dormant – and the infections, hospitalisations and deaths begin to increase again we would be open to discussing with the NHS a continuation of the contract.
"With all the twists and turns we have had with this virus – new variants, aerosol transmission and the rest – we remain ready to play our part in the national effort should new situations arise which warrant it.
“I am increasingly hopeful though that the increasing vaccinations will mean this isn’t necessary and we can get back to some resemblance of normality this year."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter