Work is ongoing to build a Nightingale surge hub at Lister Hospital in Stevenage as part of national preparations for a potential surge in patients with COVID-19 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Lister is one of eight hospitals across the country erecting temporary structures in their grounds, capable of housing around 100 patients and aimed at improving NHS resilience if increasing COVID-19 infections lead to a surge in admissions and outstrip existing capacity.

Martin Armstrong, acting chief executive of the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs Lister, told staff on December 30 the intention was for the Nightingale surge hub in the Plaza area outside Lister's main entrance to be ready for use in the first week of January, but building work is still ongoing.

In an internal memo, seen by this paper, Mr Armstrong spoke of "dramatic changes" and "much activity".

He told staff: "This Nightingale capacity is in addition to our existing detailed and comprehensive surge plans, and would be based on a different clinical model being discussed and confirmed nationally.

"Our medical director and chief nurse will be working hard to ensure the Nightingale surge hub model is safely and effectively implemented, if required.

"As with the Nightingale hospitals built in 2020, we hope this space never needs to be used. However, with record numbers of COVID infections, it is right we create this additional space for beds now, in case they are needed."

Placing the new Nightingale facilities in hospital grounds will make it easier to flex staff and equipment if there is a surge in admissions, providing access to diagnostics and emergency care if required.

If hospitals need to activate the new beds, equipment previously used for the original Nightingale hospitals will be rapidly distributed to them.

The new Nightingale facilities are intended for patients who, although not fit for discharge, need minimal support and monitoring while they recover from illness, freeing up regular ward beds to provide care for those with more intensive needs.

Patients may include those recovering from COVID-19 who are no longer infectious and do not need intensive oxygen therapy.