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Coronavirus: Ambulance charity and airline staff volunteer to help at Nightingale Hospital

PUBLISHED: 15:00 30 March 2020

Military personnel at the ExCeL which is being made into a temporary hospital. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Military personnel at the ExCeL which is being made into a temporary hospital. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

More than 750 St John Ambulance volunteers have offered to help at the new NHS Nightingale Hospital, with cabin crew from two airlines also signing up to help out.

Soldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment working in the ExCeL. Picture Dave Jenkins/MoD/PA WireSoldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment working in the ExCeL. Picture Dave Jenkins/MoD/PA Wire

Up to 200 first aiders per day will assist at the temporary hospital, which is due to open in the ExCeL this week.

The 143-year-old St John Ambulance charity has around 8,500 regular volunteers and provides an auxiliary ambulance service - often at large public events.

The volunteers are currently going through selection and being given further training to care for coronavirus patients.

Many others will also be assisting in other makeshift centres set up in different parts of the country.

Soldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment working in the ExCeL. Picture: Dave Jenkins/MoD/PA WireSoldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment working in the ExCeL. Picture: Dave Jenkins/MoD/PA Wire

Alex Davies is one of the many St John Ambulance crew who answered the call for volunteers.

The 32-year-old, who has 15 years experience with the organisation, has been appointed tactical commander of the St John volunteers at the Nightingale Hospital.

“That basically means I’m manager of all the St John people who will be here,” he said.

“Everyone is what you call a first aider, so they’ve done normal first aid training.

Alex Davies, who has been appointed tactical commander of the St John Ambulance volunteers at the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: St John Ambulance/PA WireAlex Davies, who has been appointed tactical commander of the St John Ambulance volunteers at the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: St John Ambulance/PA Wire

“Many of our people are advanced first aiders so they already have skills administering medical gasses and doing various other bits and pieces and using diagnostic equipment, so we are taking people from those groups.

“I think all of us have a feeling of some trepidation because we are going to deal with a situation we haven’t had to deal with before, and also enormous pride that we are going to be a part of the response that is going to make a huge difference for these patients.”

On the scale of the Nightingale Hospital, he said: “It is extremely impressive. I was here three days ago when it was nothing.

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“Now it really does look like an intensive care unit and they are just making it bigger and bigger and fitting out the final bits and pieces, but it is a really impressive hospital.”

Mr Davies, who is head of production engineering at a financial services company, has been granted indefinite leave to help at the Nightingale Hospital.

“My boss told me to do what’s best for society and my company have just released me for as long as is required to help,” he said.

Richard Lee, the charity’s chief operating officer, said: “The clinical skills, resilience and compassion of St John volunteers really matter in a challenging situation like this and we are grateful for their commitment.

Ambulances outside the ExCeL. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA WireAmbulances outside the ExCeL. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

“Our resources will be stretched, and our people will be tested, but we will stop at nothing to help beat this virus.”

Staff at Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet have also been invited to volunteer at the new 4,000-bed hospital in the Royal Docks, as well as those planned in Birmingham and Manchester. Their salaries will continue to be paid by the airlines.

Many first-aid trained cabin crew across the world have been grounded as countries have closed borders and cancelled flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

EasyJet has already written to its 9,000 UK-based staff including 4,000 cabin crew trained in CPR to invite them to give their time to the NHS.

Work being carried out the ExCeL to turn it into a temporary hospital. Picture: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/PA WireWork being carried out the ExCeL to turn it into a temporary hospital. Picture: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/PA Wire

Virgin Atlantic will begin writing to 4,000 of its employees on Monday and will prioritise getting in touch with those who already have the required skills.

Those who join up will be given expert training and will then perform support roles such as changing beds under the guidance of trained nurses.

Corneel Koster, chief customer officer at Virgin Atlantic, said: “We are grateful to the NHS for everything they are doing in extremely challenging circumstances and we’re committed to doing all we can to support the national effort against the rapid acceleration of Covid-19.”

Tina Milton, director of cabin services at EasyJet, added: “The NHS is at the forefront of dealing with this health emergency but the training and skills our cabin crew have, working closely with the medical professionals, could help make a real difference.”

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said the NHS needs “all the support we can get”.

She added: “Thousands of nurses, medics and other expert staff are returning to work alongside us, but we need everyone to do their bit - whether that is working in one of our current health or social care services, working in the Nightingale Hospital, volunteering to help the NHS or following government advice to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”


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