Cumbria's multi-agency group spearheading the response to coronavirus has provided an update on the progress of the community recovery centres set up in leisure centres and schools across Cumbria.
The centres, which are being housed in the Sands Centre in Carlisle, Kendal Leisure Centre, Furness Academy in Barrow and locations in Penrith and Whitehaven, are still in the process of being put together.
However rapid progress has been made, particularly in the south of the county.
The Cumbria Local Resilience Forum, the multi-agency taskforce coordinating the county's response to coronavirus, has reassured residents that when completed all of the centres will be brought up to the same standard.
A spokeman for the forum said: "As part of Cumbria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies from health, Local Authorities, care, emergency services, military, education and industry have come together to create a network of ‘Community Recovery Centres’.
"The Community Recovery Centres have been designed as part of the county’s plans to provide additional capacity so patients can be discharged from hospital.
"Both NHS Trusts in the county have already significantly increased the bed capacity.
"As part of contingency planning the Community Recovery Centres will be used for patients who are medically fit for discharge and are well enough to leave hospital, but need a little extra support to get back to their home. Community Recovery Centre beds will only be used if needed."
South Cumbria's centres in Kendal and Barrow have increased the county's bed capacity by an extra 142 beds.
The Carlisle and Whitehaven centres will increase capacity by a further 120 beds, with the site in Penrith being kept in reserve.
The spokesman added: "Each centre will be equipped with hospital standard beds and screens to help ensure the privacy and dignity of patients.
"The centres will be staffed by existing NHS and care professionals and volunteers. All will be provided with the recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for this type of facility."
The multi-agency taskforce is still working to determine the number of volunteers needed to operate the centres, and are still in the process of determining how best to deploy volunteers at the centres if the centres are to be needed.
"Initially the centres will be looking for people who may be able to support registered healthcare professionals, for instance by serving food and drinks, supporting patients to walk to the bathroom and helping support communication between patients and families.
"Anyone who may be interested in volunteering should express an interest through the Support Cumbria website – www.supportcumbria.org.uk."
Peter Rooney, chief operating officer at NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group said: “On behalf of all NHS staff in north Cumbria I would like to thank everyone in Cumbria for continuing social distancing.
"This is the best way everyone can support the local NHS. We are developing our Community Recovery Centres in Carlisle and Whitehaven, and we will ensure the equipment, facilities and staff needed for the centres will be in place before any patients move there.
“Creating these centres is a huge team effort and the work required to transform sports halls into places appropriate to provide care to a high standard is significant.
"We would like to thank the Local Resilience Forum and all the local partners supporting this work.”
Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council and the chairman of the Cumbria Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “It’s reassuring to see the progress that has been made with these centres over recent days.
"There is a phenomenal amount of work going on behind the scenes to get these centres ready and I’d like to thank everyone that has been involved. I share the hope that the centres will not be required, but it is much better to have them available in case.”
Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, chairwoman of the Cumbria Local Resilience Forum, said: “As an LRF we recognised early that there is the potential for our hospital bed capacity to be exceeded and we took the decision to act. It’s fantastic to see these centres now taking shape and I hope people can now see the standard and quality that we are aiming for.
"It’s a real testament to the skill and experience of agencies in Cumbria that we’re achieving this under locally using our own resources. It is my hope that we will never need to use these centres, but knowing that we have them in place in case they are needed means we will be better placed to save more lives, and that is our over-riding aim.”