BLACKBURN Sports and Leisure Centre is being considered as a potential site for a new emergency ‘field hospital’ to ease coronavirus pressure on East Lancashire’s existing NHS wards.

Military and health experts have visited the £13million building in Feilden Street, which opened in March 2015, and deemed its two sports halls suitable for up to 100 patients.

It is one of four possible sites being examined for one or two ‘field hospitals’ across Lancashire to cope with any surge in demand caused by Covid-19 by freeing up beds at the Royal Blackburn Hospital.

A final decision on whether to go ahead with the extra capacity and where to locate it is expected from NHS England and the Lancashire Resilience Forum, co-ordinating the public sector response to the pandemic, shortly.

Confirming the interest, Cllr Damian Talbot - Blackburn with Darwen Borough’s health and wellbeing boss - said the council and Blackburn College, which jointly developed the centre, would be happy to see it used as extra hospital capacity for non-coronavirus patients.

He said: “This would relieve pressure on the Royal Blackburn and provide reassurance for local residents.”

However a spokeswoman for NHS England said: “Blackburn Sports and Leisure Centre is not part of our current plans for the North-West.”

The move to set up the special new wards in Lancashire follows the creation of five similar NHS bases in Cumbria and the setting up of three ‘Nightingale’ hospitals for hundreds of patients in conference centres in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

County emergency planners are also understood to be examining establishing a contingency morgue for up 1,000 bodies at BAE Systems' Warton factory and airfield near Blackpool in case of a surge in coronavirus deaths.

Cllr Talbot said: “I understand that Blackburn Sports and Leisure Centre is being actively considered for a field hospital.

“It has been scoped out by military and health experts and its two sports hall deemed suitable as they were designed with examinations in mind and are heated. Both the council and college are happy to help the centre’s use as a hospital if it is chosen to provide extra NHS capacity.”

Cllr John Slater, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council Conservative group, said: “If this is what we’ve got to do, this is what we’ve got to do.

“It is a good idea in case everything gets worse and we need extra capacity. I welcome it.”

Darwen East Liberal Democrat Cllr Roy Davies said: “This looks like good planning and organisation. Let’s just hope we never have to use it.”

The other three sites being considered for new emergency hospitals in Lancashire are the Sir Tom Finney Leisure Centre attached to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, The Winter Gardens in Blackpool and the Salt Ayre Leisure Centre in Lancaster.

Emergency planners are currently looking at road access issues to the Blackburn Sports and Leisure Centre as final details for nay new field hospitals are drawn up.

The Lancashire Resilience Forum declined to comment.