A former Defence Minister has launched a passionate plea for Nightingale Hospitals to be used more during the coronavirus crisis.
Commons Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said the facilities should be “better utilised” as the pandemic’s second wave gripped the country.
He claimed there were not enough staff for the dedicated units to be used as planned – and “where they are working, people don’t like to use them because they are dark and dingy”.
Speaking as MPs grilled Defence Secretary Ben Wallace over the military’s role in the coronavirus response, Mr Ellwood, who served as an Army captain with the Royal Green Jackets, claimed some patients contracted the disease in general hospitals – and sending Covid-19 victims to Nightingales would curb help the spread.
Such a move would “alleviate the pressure off those hospitals”, he added.
Calling for greater military involvement in the Covid-19 response, Mr Ellwood warned: “The trouble that we face here is that there remains a stigma of failure if you lean to use the military … including the strategic decision-making at the top, when you have policy-makers making operational delivery decisions.
“MPs, our colleagues, Cabinet members – no experience in emergency strategic thinking or in during crises, making judgements which the military are trained to do.
“But unfortunately there’s a sense of failure if you resort to using the military too much.”
Soldiers were drafted in over the spring to help convert vast conference centres like the ExCel in London’s Docklands and Manchester Central into makeshift “field” hospitals to help with the outbreak.
Seven were set up in England. But many of the centres went unused or treated very few patients.
Mr Wallace said: “When this started all the advice and the warning signals were that this would have a huge number of people requiring ventilation.
“That was the initial medical view, that this disease caused quick dependency and high levels of ventilation (were needed) so the design of the Nightingales was predominantly to be mass ventilation units.
“They didn’t have showers built, they didn’t have canteens because people would arrive effectively under ventilation, be ventilated and hopefully come back out.
“The configuration is not to be an alternative hospital or primary care centre.”
He said there was little demand from local health chiefs to switch the use of the Nightingales.
But “if they do wish to do that then again like last time, we will help design them, set them up and deliver them”, pledged the Defence Secretary.
Mr Wallace, a former Scots Guards captain, added: “I don’t think the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) has a stigma problem with the MoD (Ministry of Defence).”