Call for inquiry into Harrogate’s Nightingale hospital
Last updated Feb 23, 2021

A health scrutiny board could investigate the building and use of the Nightingale hospital in Harrogate.

The West Yorkshire Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee will consider next month whether to accept calls for it to hold an inquiry into decisions made about the facility.

Cllr Jim Clark, who represents Harrogate Harlow division, spent 10 years as chair of North Yorkshire’s scrutiny of health committee and now sits on the West Yorkshire equivalent, ensuring a voice for people in the Harrogate district who are treated at its hospitals.

Speaking to the committee yesterday, he said:

“This was a tremendous success, building the Nightingale hospitals, and the one in Harrogate was built in about four weeks after 10 years of bed closures in North Yorkshire…

“This has always been a campaigning committee and I have been proud to be a member of it… But I think we need a public inquiry into why did we never use the Nightingale hospital? They say now that it was an insurance policy, but if we had needed to use it, could we have used it?

“I wrote to the secretary of state in 2018 saying that we were so short of staff in the Harrogate CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) at that time that it was affecting performance. So if we had needed the Nightingale hospital there wouldn’t have been people there to man it.”

The health scrutiny committee wrote to the NHS twice last August calling for the Nightingale hospital to be kept open, and again in November suggesting it be used for vaccinations. Cllr Clark praised the work of those running the Great Yorkshire Showground site, but said the awarding of contracts and the ability to make any use of the Nightingale hospital needed to be scrutinised.

He said the example of trouble at Welcome to Yorkshire which was only revealed years after the 2014 Tour de France served as a warning about the need for close scrutiny at the right time.

“We need to get this done now. I would welcome any help you can give me to get a proper public inquiry and it shouldn’t affect the on-going work of the pandemic.”

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Scrutiny committee chair Cllr Helen Hayden told Cllr Clark that a working group meeting in March would decide whether to take his call for an inquiry forward.

Responding to Cllr Clark, Anthony Kealy, NHS England director in West Yorkshire, said the Nightingale was still being used for diagnostic scans and its future beyond the end of March was yet to be announced by the government. He added:

“We have regarded it largely as a success that we have never had to use the Nightingale for in-patient care. It was, as Cllr Clark suggested, developed as a bit of an insurance policy agains the NHS being overwhelmed.

“The Nightingale programme was rolled out very rapidly at the point where we were looking at northern Italy and its health services being overwhelmed. If the NHS had got to that point in April, the Nightingale would have certainly opened, but we managed to avoid that.”

He said while it was true to say it would have had to bring staff in from existing hospitals from the system, that was to be expected. Staff were busy in their daily roles, as would be expected, and would have been redeployed from routine care to run the Nightingale.

However, committee member Cllr Betty Rhodes said “robbing Peter to pay Paul” with staff moving from hospitals to the Nightingale would not have been a workable solution. At the time, she said, the hospital trusts were looking at cutting routine services and could not have spared staff.

She also supported calls for an inquiry, including into the procurement processes used during the pandemic to ensure they represented value for money.

Cllr Hayden added:

“This discussion will go on about procurement, about the Nightingale hospital… We will discuss as a board, looking back at the pandemic and assessing what went right, what went wrong, what do we need to learn from it. It’s going to be an on-going process.”