Royal Preston Hospital turns staff canteen into makeshift Covid ward to create space for extra beds

Royal Preston Hospital has closed its staff restaurant and visitor car park to make space for extra beds as it prepares for a potential surge in Covid patients.

By Matthew Calderbank
Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 1:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 2:04 pm

The staff canteen, Charters Restaurant, has temporarily shut to allow a makeshift ward to open in its place as the hospital braces for a wave of new Covid admissions in the weeks to come.

The makeshift ward inside Royal Preston Hospital is in addition to the 100-capacity Nightingale Surge Hub announced last week, to be built on the visitor car park opposite the main entrance.

The Nightingale hub is one of 8 to open at hospitals around England and will service the wider North West region, providing up to 100 extra beds for recovering patients.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Royal Preston Hospital has closed its staff canteen to allow a makeshift ward to open in its place as the hospital prepares for a potential wave of new Covid admissions in the weeks to come

But last week, the Government asked all of England's hospital trusts to find additional space for extra beds as patient numbers soar across the country.

In November, 61% of emergency admissions (out of a total of 2,873) had to wait at least four hours for a bed on a ward. The figure has nearly doubled in the two years since the Covid pandemic started in 2019, when 33% of emergency patients were left waiting more than 4 hours for a bed.

Royal Preston Hospital has identified the main staff dining area as the most suitable site for these extra beds, with capacity for around 50 patients.

The restaurant normally opens seven days a week, between 8am to 2pm, and provides hot meals, sandwiches and salads to staff.

It closed yesterday (Tuesday, January 4) and will remain shut until further notice.

Work is expected to begin this week to transform the canteen into a working ward, whilst other spaces - including the hospital's physio gyms - have been earmarked as potential spaces for even more beds.

The hospital trust said staff still have access to a restaurant in the Education Centre at the rear of the hospital grounds, which serves hot food, as well as Costa Coffee and the Café at the front entrance.

It is also converting one of its meeting rooms into an temporary dining area with microwaves and space for staff to sit down to eat, as well as increasing the trolley service available to wards. The trust added that there are vending machines throughout the hospital selling hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks 24 hours a day.

Work will also begin this week on the main Nightingale Surge Hub in the visitor car park (car park B), reducing the number of available parking spaces.

But with visiting arrangements now suspended, the hospital trust said it does not expect the lack of spaces to be much of an issue.

A hospital spokesman said: "There are alternative public car parks including Car Park A which is adjacent to the main entrance and as visitor restrictions are in place, the situation is manageable and our car park teams are on hand to help."

What does Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust say about the staff canteen closure and new 'surge wards'?

A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals said: "The NHS across Lancashire and South Cumbria is preparing contingency plans in the event that Omicron cases continue to rise.

"These include a focus on safely discharging patients home as quickly as possible, increased levels of virtual wards and home oximetry to allow people to be treated within their own homes.

"We have also identified and are preparing additional surge capacity within hospitals to provide extra beds.

"Our colleagues have been notified that Charters restaurant will temporarily close from January 4 to allow us to prepare the space for potential use by patients if the Omicron variant of Covid-19 results in the need for additional surge beds to be required.

"We are also looking at other potential space including our physio gyms and in total around 50 beds could be provided by using such space.

"And finally, if all other options are exhausted, we will have a Nightingale Surge Hub based on the Preston site which would service the wider region and provide up to 100 extra beds for recovering patients.

"Car Park B (visitor car park) opposite the main reception has also been closed to allow the enabling work for the new Nightingale Surge Hub to be carried out.

"We hoped never to have to use the original Nightingales, and the same applies to these hubs (we are one of eight nationwide), but it is the right thing to do to put these plans in place.

"We are also asking the public to help by using appropriate services to A&E and having their booster jabs."