| 7°C Belfast

Northern Ireland Nightingale hospital ready to open just 81 days after its approval

Northern Ireland's second Nightingale Hospital is due to admit its first patients on Friday.

Three floors of Whiteabbey Hospital are being transformed to allow patients recovering from Covid-19 to receive specialist rehabilitation.

Ward two on the first floor, which will accommodate 23 patients, is ready to open its doors, and it is hoped the remaining wards, which will have a total of 56 beds, will be able to admit patients from next month.

The Northern Trust has been asked to run the service for the next two years although this is flexible depending on whether the virus can be brought under control.

Health bosses are optimistic that the facility will not only provide an enhanced patient experience, but also help to relieve the pressure on the health service.

Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Trust, said: "We will be providing beds for 79 patients which will free up beds in acute settings.

"We're taking patients from the back of the hospital, meaning patients won't have to wait as long on trolleys in emergency departments to be admitted to a ward.


Hard work rewarded: Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Trust

Hard work rewarded: Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Trust

Hard work rewarded: Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Trust

"We're very excited about the opening of the unit which is down to the hard work of everyone involved."

A capital project that would normally take two years to complete, the new step-down unit - which cost £4.5m - is ready to open just 81 days after it received Executive approval.

Kevin O'Loan, the architect who oversaw the construction of Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex and South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, was responsible for redesigning the wards.

He said: "A 24-bed unit in a new build would normally cost about £2.5m so the investment in this project has been significant. It would normally be 12 months in design and 12 months in construction so there have been an awful lot of emails sent at midnight to get to this stage so quickly.

"At the very start of this, there was talk of setting up a facility in the likes of the Eikon Exhibition Centre but we decided against the bed and shed model that have been set up in England because it isn't as safe."

Whiteabbey Hospital is 35 years old, meaning a huge amount of work has been carried out to bring the facility up to standard, including putting in place patient oxygen points at every bed, upgrading the air filtration to reduce the risk of viral spread, and improved call bells for patients and staff.

The opening of ward two as a Covid-19 rehabilitation unit is going ahead as planned despite a coronavirus outbreak in patients who were being nursed there this week.

Ward two was the Northern Trust's stroke and fracture rehabilitation unit but patients were moved to ward nine on Tuesday to allow the floor to be prepared for the Nightingale facility.

A deep clean of ward two was carried out on Wednesday after the outbreak came to light to allow construction workers to continue to prepare the unit for patients arriving on Friday.

The outbreak came to light when people on the ward displayed symptoms and an investigation is under way to establish its extent.

Belfast Telegraph