The UK's newest and largest hospital facility is gearing up to open its doors to receive coronavirus patients in need of intensive care.
The East London ExCeL exhibition center, which normally hosts lifestyle shows, exhibitions and conferences, has been converted into the NHS Nightingale temporary hospital, with space for 4,000 beds.
In nine days, the 87,328 square meters of double showrooms were equipped with the structure for more than 80 wards, each with 42 beds. There are already 500 fully equipped beds, with oxygen and fans, and there is room for another 3,500.
If it reached capacity, it would be one of the largest hospitals in the world.
How was it built?
The facility was built with the help of up to 200 soldiers a day from the Royal Anglian Regiment and the Royal Gurkha Rifles, working long shifts alongside NHS staff and contractors.
Timelapse video of the NHS Nightingale being built
Architects and engineers from BDP, the company that helped convert the center, were part of the planning team, tasked with creating the rescue facility.
BDP director James Hepburn said the construction schedule and scale were different from previous health care projects and the architects had projects almost as necessary as the building needed to begin.
The structure for the individual compartments of the bed was made of material generally used to make exhibition stands – because it is light and can be built quickly.
Hepburn said the three main challenges are:
- Speed of construction and what to build it
- Have a reliable electrical supply – for fans and life-saving equipment
- And being able to take medical gases to each of the beds
ExCeL's existing electrical infrastructure has been modified to ensure that the power supply can handle demand – and not cut. Temporary oxygen generators and tanks were also installed to supply the beds.
Hepburn said his team drew up a instruction manual to share with other countries that carry out similar emergency projects – and people from Australia and Canada have already contacted them.
- In pictures: NHS Nightingale Hospital London
Where will the employees come from?
The adaptation of the ExCeL center to the hospital site goes beyond the functional characteristics of the building.
It is served by public transport links. The nearby London city airport can be used to bring supplies and equipment and there is also accommodation in hotels and universities close by – if necessary.
It will be led by a team of eight senior employees, from local hospitals and trust associations. At capacity, the hospital will need 16,000 employees to keep it running. This will include thousands of doctors, nurses and volunteers.
"The numbers are staggering," said Natalie Forrest, director of operations. "To run a ward, including all of our auxiliary employees, we need 200 members."
The nursing team is being selected from other hospitals, as well as volunteers from the São João ambulance. Employees from Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic airlines were also contacted.
Cabin crews have security clearance and many of them are also trained in first aid. The NHS says they would change beds, helping doctors and nurses in the wards and performing other non-clinical tasks.
It will not be a conventional hospital – only patients who already have ventilators will be admitted and transferred from other intensive care units in London. They will remain in the hospital until the ventilation course is over.
Support services, such as pharmacies and therapeutic treatment, will also be available.
And a morgue is also included in the design of the NHS Nightingale. Additional mortuary space is also being found elsewhere in the city, including Wanstead Flats in the Manor Park area of Newham, local residents said.
Other temporary morgues are also being set up across the UK, including an ice rink at Milton Keynes, a crematorium in Ruislip, and at Birmingham Airport, where the hangar facility will initially have space for 1,500 bodies, "but will expand to contain more ".
Will there be other NHS nightingales?
Preparations are also underway to expand NHS Nightingale-style hospitals beyond London.
Conference centers in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow have been designated as hospital sites to help ease the pressure on the NHS – some of which could open by the end of the month, albeit with fewer beds than those in London.
The tower block of Belfast City Hospital is being transformed into Northern Ireland's first Nightingale hospital – it will become a 230-bed unit comprised of staff from across Northern Ireland.
6,000 extra beds are also being set up in Wales – many in sports and leisure facilities – to relieve pressure from hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among them is the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, the national stadium for Wales, which will be used as a field hospital for up to 2,000 beds if necessary.