The news comes as the number of people suffering from the virus soars with a further 50,023 new cases on Wednesday, as well as 981 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test – more than double of Tuesday’s total.
Over the past weeks, doctors and other healthcare workers have used social media to express the mounting pressure they face as the virus spreads.
Matt Hancock says Nightingale Hospitals are ‘on standby’
Hospitals including the NHS trust which operates Queen’s Hospital in Romford and Goodmayes’ King George admitted earlier this week it was facing “significant pressure” to treat all Covid patients and was forced to ask medical staff to take on additional shifts.
Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Wallace, said: “Of course we stand ready to help with Nightingales if the critical pressures go beyond the capacity of the existing NHS.
“We are on, I think, 17,000 ventilator beds currently being used, of a capacity of 21,000.
“If it starts to tip over there, then of course you’ll see those Nightingales being more active and, yes, we have a number of medical staff.”
Other Nightingale hospital sites across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter and Birmingham.
A spokesman for the NHS said: “Hospitals in London are coming under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates and while staff are going the extra mile and the NHS in London is opening more beds in NHS hospitals across the capital to care for the most unwell patients, it is crucial that people do everything they can to reduce transmission of the virus.
“In anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection, NHS London were asked to ensure the London Nightingale was reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and that process is under way.”
The Exeter site received its first Covid patients in November when it began accepting those transferred from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, which was described as “very busy”.
The Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate are in use currently for non-Covid patients, the spokesman said.
He added: “Covid inpatient numbers are rising sharply so the remaining Nightingales are being readied to admit patients once again should they be needed, in line with best clinical practice developed over the first and second waves of coronavirus.”
NHS England medical director Stephen Powis has described the Nightingale hospitals as “our insurance policy, there as our last resort”.
He told the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday: “We asked all the Nightingale hospitals a few weeks ago to be ready to take patients if that was required.
“Indeed, some of them are already doing that, in Manchester taking step-down patients, in Exeter managing Covid patients, and in other places managing diagnostics, for instance.
“Our first steps though, in managing the extra demands on the NHS, are to expand capacity within existing hospitals – that’s the best way to use our staff.”
Concerns have been raised around the already-stretched health service’s ability to staff Nightingale facilities.
Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “It is not ‘just the case’ of using the Nightingale hospital as there are simply no staff for them to run as they were originally intended (mini intensive care units).”