The news comes as the number of people suffering from the virus soars with 50,023 additional new cases on Wednesday, as well as 981 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test – more than double Tuesday’s total.
London’s NHS has been urged to ensure the ExCeL center site is “reactivated and ready to admit patients” as hospitals in the capital struggle.
In recent weeks, doctors and other healthcare workers have used social media to voice the growing pressure they face as the virus spreads.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the military stood ready to staff Nightingale hospitals if the NHS exceeded its capacity for intensive care beds.
Matt Hancock says Nightingale hospitals are ‘on hold’
Hospitals including the NHS Trust which runs Queen’s Hospital in Romford and the King George of Goodmayes admitted earlier this week that it faces “significant pressure” to treat all Covid patients and has been forced to ask medical staff to take extra shifts.
Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Wallace said: ‘Of course we are ready to help Nightingales if the critical pressures exceed the capacity of the existing NHS.
“We have, I think, 17,000 ventilator beds currently in use, with a capacity of 21,000 people.
“If it starts to change over there, then of course you’ll see these nightingales being more active and, yes, we have a number of medical staff.”
Other Nightingale hospital sites across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter and Birmingham.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘London hospitals are under significant pressure due to high rates of Covid-19 infection and as staff go the extra mile and London NHS opens more beds in NHS hospitals across the capital to care for the most sick patients, it is essential that people do whatever they can to reduce the transmission of the virus.
‘In anticipation of increasing pressures as the new variant of the infection spread, NHS London has been asked to ensure that the London Nightingale is reactivated and ready to admit patients if necessary, and that the process is underway .
The Exeter site received its first Covid patients in November when it began accepting those transferred from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, which has been described as “very busy”.
Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate are currently in use for non-Covid patients, the spokesperson said.
He added: “The number of hospitalized Covid patients is increasing sharply, so the remaining nightingales are ready to re-admit patients when needed, in line with best clinical practices developed during the first and second waves of coronavirus. ”
NHS England Medical Director Stephen Powis described Nightingale Hospitals as “our insurance policy over there as our last resort”.
He told the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday: “We asked all Nightingale hospitals a few weeks ago to be ready to take patients if necessary.
“Indeed, some of them are already doing it, in Manchester leaving patients, in Exeter managing Covid patients and in other places managing diagnoses, for example.
“However, our first steps, in dealing with additional demands from the NHS, are to increase the capacity of existing hospitals – this is the best way to use our staff.”
Concerns have been raised about the already limited capacity of the health department to staff Nightingale facilities.
Dr Nick Scriven, past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “It is not ‘just the case’ to use Nightingale Hospital as there is simply no staff to work as originally intended (mini intensive care units). “