A new Nightingale Hospital being built in Tyne and Wear may never need to open, an NHS boss has said.
The 460-bed site in Washington could be ready to take patients at the end of the month, but only if hospitals in the North East are unable to cope during the coronavirus pandemic.
Martin Wilson, chief operating officer for Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which is overseeing the project, said he hoped that the makeshift hospital would not be needed.
“I don’t think we will need to open,” he said.
“If people can all play their part in social distancing, if a vaccine comes along, my hope is that we don’t need to open.
“If we do, we will be ready.”
The trust has stressed that it has enough personal protective equipment (PPE), that its “number one priority” is protecting staff, and that the brand new unit has designated “donning and doffing” (putting on and removing) areas.
The facility – which has been transformed from an empty unit close to the Nissan car plant – is owned by Sunderland Council.
It was intended to be used by Newcastle and Sunderland Universities as an innovation centre, focusing on the future of manufacturing, including electric cars.
If it does open, it will be staffed by employees of local health trusts, as well as returning medics and volunteers.
It has good access to the rest of the region, being just off the A19 and not far from the A1, and the main hall where the beds will be located measures more than 9,000 square metres – bigger than a football pitch.
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Visitors will not be allowed to see patients, but the trust is looking to set up a 24-hour phone number for relatives to call for updates, and tablets could be used to help keep families in touch.
Six other NHS Nightingale Hospitals have been announced so far – in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Harrogate and Exeter.