Construction on Bristol’s Nightingale hub has commenced as the Omicron variant continues to sweep through the city.
The temporary unit, which is being built outside Southmead Hospital, will have space for up to 100 patients - but medics hope it will never have to be used.
A spokesperson for the North Bristol NHS Trust (NBHT) said the hub would be on standby in case of a ‘worst case scenario’ that would see all other options in the South West used up.
It comes after the NBHT, along with the University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust, which runs Bristol Royal Infirmary, declared ‘critical incidents’ amid staff shortages and pressures brought on by the virus.
According to latest NHS data for the week up to January 2, an average 96% of general and acute beds were occupied each day at hospitals run by both trusts.
The shell to the hub just outside the main hospital building has been completed - now it will be partially fitted out over the course of the next week.
It is one of eight sites being created across England.
The NBHT spokesperson said: “With Covid rates now very high, the NHS across the area is preparing for a potential sharp increase in people needing hospital care.
“This includes creating additional space for beds at Southmead Hospital for the region if all other options are not enough.
“However, we hope this will never be needed and with vaccines our best weapon we urge everyone to get boosted now in their local centre.”
The WHO has warned that half the population of Europe is expected to catch Omicron within the next six to eight weeks, with the ‘highly transmissible’ strain currently accounting for 96% of positive cases in Bristol, according to latest sampling data.
Elsewhere in the city, part of the four-star Bristol Hotel in Harbourside has also been turned into a temporary care facility to relieve pressure on the city’s hospitals.
Up to 30 patients are being moved from hospitals in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire to the hotel, where they will stay in en-suite rooms and be looked after by live-in carers.
An NHS Nightingale hospital with 300 extra intensive care beds was set up in Bristol in April 2020 in just three weeks, but ultimately was not used to treat coronavirus patients.
The temporary hospital was instead used for the assessment and treatment of more than 7,000 non-Covid patients and was closed in March 2021.