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Coronavirus: How Nightingale Hospital went from concept to reality within days

PUBLISHED: 10:00 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:44 02 April 2020

The ExCeL is being made into a temporary hospital to help tackle the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The ExCeL is being made into a temporary hospital to help tackle the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Military personnel have been working 15 hour shifts to help build the new 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale hospital set to care for coronavirus patients.

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

Construction work to transform the ExCeL in the Royal Docks into a temporary hospital began on Wednesday, March 25 with NHS staff and the military involved in its planning.

A week on and the facility is almost ready to begin taking in Covid-19 patients from hospitals across the capital.

Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, from the Army Medical Services, said plans for the hospital were only conceived on March 21 in a meeting between the NHS and military.

Since then, up to 200 personnel, including infantry from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, have been assisting contractors and NHS staff with its construction.

A hospital bed and respirator at the ExCeL. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireA hospital bed and respirator at the ExCeL. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Col Boreham, who is the project’s senior military lead, supporting the advisory mentoring team, said: “I arrived on site and met with the NHS last Saturday.

“We literally sat down with a piece of paper and some drawings and came up with a concept that the NHS and us thought would work well.

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“From that point there, we have re-purposed this wonderful building into an NHS hospital.”

He said the number of military personnel on site has expanded from eight to 60 over the past week, ranging from medical advisers, engineers and logistics staff.

However, the numbers increased further when infantry soldiers were brought in to help at the peak of the facility’s construction.

“It’s long hours,” Col Boreham said. “It’s like what they would normally do on operations.

“It’s longer hours than what people are used to working in some parts of the organisation.

“We start at about 7am in the morning and will finish at 10pm at night and we have been here since the start.”

Col Boreham said all military staff were on a rotation system to ensure they are given time to rest and recuperate.

He said the ExCeL venue was chosen by the NHS, but supported by military planners due to its existing utilities.

“This site is perfect,” he said. “It has a corridor down the middle, it has got big areas to create wards and bays and sufficient utilities to sustain a facility of this size.”


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