Coronavirus: Washington Nightingale hospital 'may not be needed'

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image captionThe hospital will be able to accommodate nearly 500 patients

A new Nightingale hospital being built in the north-east of England may never need to open, an NHS boss has said.

The 460-bed facility in a modified empty unit in Washington, near the Nissan car factory, could be ready to take patients in two weeks.

But it will only open if hospitals in the North East cannot cope with the number of Covid-19 patients.

If people follow social distancing rules hospitals should not be overwhelmed, a health chief has said.

Martin Wilson, the chief operating officer for Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which is overseeing the Washington project, said: "I don't think we will need to open.

"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."

image captionThe hospital's main hall is 9,000 sq m - bigger than a standard football pitch

The new unit is owned by Sunderland Council and was due to be used as a manufacturing innovation centre by Newcastle and Sunderland Universities.

The temporary hospital will be staffed by local NHS trust employees, returning retired medics and volunteers.

It has designated areas for putting on and taking off protective equipment.

Six other NHS Nightingale hospitals have been announced - in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Harrogate and Exeter.

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