Coronavirus: Cumbria school becomes a hospital in two hours

A Cumbrian school has been converted into a makeshift hospital in just two hours, in what is thought to be the first use of a school for that purpose since the First World War.

Installed with the help of the military and local public bodies, extra bed capacity at Furness Academy in Barrow will be used to provide care to recovering patients who have been in hospital.

We have said all along, that we will endeavour to do whatever it takes to work with our support services to ensure that we combat this crisis together

According to headteacher Simon Laheney, it is thought to be the first time a school has been re-designated as a hospital since Cambridge Primary School was used in August 1914, at the start of the First World War.

The school is one of five sites in the county that will provide 500 beds between them. It means the school will not be open to provide childcare for vulnerable pupils or the children of key workers.

“We have said all along, that we will endeavour to do whatever it takes to work with our support services to ensure that we combat this crisis together. So when the request came through for help, it was an easy decision to make,” he said in a letter to parents.

“If we can help save the lives of people in our community, our parents and grandparents, our sons and daughters, our aunties and uncles, our friends and colleagues, by providing crucial support for our NHS – of course we will!”

However, Laheney was quick to point out that the set-up is “not a similar facility to the NHS Nightingale hospitals you may have seen reported in the media or a ‘field hospital’”.

“The intended purpose of this additional bed capacity will be to provide a suitable place where care can be administered to patients who are on the ‘road to recovery’ before they are discharged home.

“This will, in turn, free up bed capacity at the hospital for those patients who will be in need of intensive critical care, including the use of ventilators.”

He said the community was “fortunate” that Furnesss Academy’s facilities are suitable not only for additional bed space, but also washing and rest facilities for NHS workers, catering for patients and staff, and “access to the school network and Wi-Fi”.

“Equipment is being installed throughout this week with the assistance of Ministry of Defence troops who are supporting preparations across Cumbria.

“These are understandably worrying times for us all and these arrangements have been made in the anticipation of the likely demand on NHS bed space. I am sure you will agree, that it is better to act now and put this provision in place in case it is needed, rather than wait and see.”

Laheney said parents who were “considering childcare” at Furness Academy would receive further communication “as things develop”.

The school is one of five sites in Cumbria that will be set up to provide 500 beds. The other sites are Whitehaven Sports Centre, The Sands Centre in Carlisle, Penrith Leisure Centre and Kendal Leisure Centre.

Andrew Slattery, Cumbria’s assistant chief constable, who chairs the county’s multi-agency strategic co-ordination group, said: “The full operational model of how the new facilities would work is still being developed. But work now will ensure that the basic physical infrastructure is in place should it be needed.

“This is a prudent and sensible approach given how this pandemic has developed in other countries.”

Lyn Simpson, chief executive of North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust welcomed the news of additional bed capacity.

“We are very grateful for the fantastic response from our multi agency partners in securing this additional capacity, and we will now work together to plan how these facilities can be used.”

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