Just nine days remain until the end of the contract for the Nightingale hospital in Harrogate – and there is still no confirmation of its future.
Although the Prime Minister announced on Friday that £3bn of funding was being given to the NHS to fund Nightingale hospitals through the winter if needed, the future of the Harrogate facility has not been confirmed.
Both Harrogate Borough Council, which owns the centre and the NHS have said no decision has been made on whether the contract for the venue will be extended after the end of July.
The venue has been home to the field hospital since late March, when it was set up in just three weeks by NHS staff and the armed forces. The initial contract ran until the end of June, before being extended to the end of July.
Now, with conferences and events across the country able to resume from October 1, businesses are calling for clarity on HCC’s future so they can plan for their recovery from lockdown.
Andrew Manby, a director of family events firm Joe Manby Ltd, which was founded 46 years ago, said the future of the town’s economy is in the balance. He asked the NHS to announce a decision soon:
“No decision is equally damaging as the wrong decision. If they do keep the Nightingale, I understand those needs and people’s health is paramount, but it puts Harrogate into a very difficult position.
“This is potentially a game-changing time. What will be left of the events and meetings industry in Harrogate if this thing goes on through to the middle of next year?”
This week, the NEC in Birmingham confirmed it would be reopening in full as its Nightingale hospital was decommissioned, leaving a small non-Covid stand-by facility in place until March. With 20 halls, however, only a fraction of its space was taken up by the Nightingale, whereas almost all of HCC has been occupied.
Meanwhile, Manchester’s Nightingale hospital has been placed on stand-by ready for future cases, after treating Covid patients earlier this year. If Harrogate’s Nightingale were to close, Manchester would be the closest alternative for patients from across Yorkshire and the Humber, along with Washington, Tyne and Wear.
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A spokesperson for the NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and the Humber said:
“We welcome the news that more funding is being made available to fight the Covid pandemic. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Harrogate for their invaluable support to date. We continue to work closely with our colleagues at NHS England and Harrogate Borough Council to agree the next steps for our regional temporary hospital at HCC.”
For Harrogate, the question is not just whether the Nightingale will remain in place, but what happens to the local economy if it does.
HCC says it brings £35m into the area through trade and public events during a normal year. Hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes all benefit from HCC visitors and have previously raised concerns about how they will survive without that trade over the coming months.
Even if the Nightingale hospital is removed, Mr Manby said organisers will be making difficult decisions about whether their events can go ahead safely – and if they are viable with fewer visitors.
Working across the UK, he said his fears were for the local, independent hospitality businesses that make Harrogate unique, and for the resulting impact on the town’s future prospects.
“When HCC come back, as they will, what facilities are going to be left that we can promote the town with?
“It’s the smaller independents that make Harrogate the unique facility it is. If they aren’t going to survive, that’s the unique offering Harrogate has. It’s going to change the whole shape and form of the town – forever, possibly.
“It will be the serious demise of Harrogate as an event and exhibition facility, which has been built up over 50-plus years. It could be gone.
“We will work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”