03 April 2020

Prince Charles opens NHS Nightingale Hospital for coronavirus patients via videolink

The new NHS Nightingale Hospital, built from scratch at London's ExCeL centre to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, was today opened by Prince Charles via videolink.

The Prince of Wales, 71, spoke from his Scottish residence at Birkhall, where he has recently been self-isolating while recovering from the illness.

He paid tribute to the phenomenal effort of all those who had worked to build the new hospital, which dwarfs other medical facilities around the country and thanked all workers across the country for their unwavering efforts in providing care to those in need during the crisis.

Prince Charles appeared via videolink to carry out the opening (PA Images)

"I was enormously touched to be asked to open the Nightingale hospital," he said.

He described it as a 'spectacular' feat of work at getting so much work done so fast and how 'human will and inginuity' helped achieve the unbelievable.

"This hospital offers us an intensely profound message of hope for those who need it most at this time of national suffering.

"Let us pray it will be required for as short a time and for as few people as possible.

"The name could not have been more aptly chosen. Florence Nightingale, the lady of the lamp, brought hope and healing to the thousands in their darkest hour.

"In this dark time, this place will be a shining light."

He finished by saying that despite modern technology, he could not quite reach to unveil the plaque himself and appointed Natalie Grey, head of nursing at the new NHS Nightingale in his place.

Natalie Grey unveiled the plaque on the Prince's behalf (PA Images)

Also present at the ceremony were England's chief nursing officer, Ruth May, and the head of NHS Nightingale, Prof Charles Knight as well as Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister Nadine Dorries.

Alongside them were a number of workers, army personnel and volunteers who had helped in the effort.

The temporary hospital, for which the Government announced plans just two weeks ago, has the capacity for between 4,000 and 5,000 beds to cope with COVID-19 cases received from other intensive care units (ICU) around the capital.

The Nightingale's chief medical director Alan McGlennan said that initially 500 beds fully equipped with oxygen and ventilators will be available.

 Expansion will then be "ramped up" so it can meet its full capacity in two weeks' time if required.

The new hospital will have capacity for up to 4,0000 patients (PA Images)

Patients who are transferred to the Nightingale will be those already on ventilators and they remain at the new hospital until they no longer require them.

Those suffering from other conditions, including cardiac problems, will be better suited for care at other specialist centres, Mr McGlennan added.

Beds will be most suited for those requiring ventilators (PA Images)

Situated on the site of the ExCel on London's South Bank, NHS Nightingale Hospital has been constructed by a huge 200-strong task force including members of the Army sent by the Ministry of Defence and a vast number of contractors and NHS staff.

Work and planning has been contributed to by soldiers who have experience in battling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and also some who have served in Afghanistan.

They have been working gruelling 15 hour shifts in order to ensure the fastest possible completion in the midst of the pandemic.

Army soldiers have assisted in the refurbishment of the ExCel centre into a hospital (PA Images)

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.

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

Staff have worked tirelessly to get the hospital finished (PA Images)

National Health Service CEO Simon Stevens told the BBC the rapid completion had been an "extraordinary team effort."

Whereas in a typical hospital, around six staff are allocated per bed, the open-plan design of wards will allow doctors to spread their work across and increased number of patients.

NHS Nightingale is split into 80 wards each consisting of 42 beds and, at full capacity, could still require over 16,000 members of staff.

An overview of the 1km length of the hospital and how many beds will be required (PA Images)

However, this is something that chief operating officer Natalie Forrest calls a "scary number." She has appealed to volunteers and extra staff in order to help provide sufficient care.

Forrest said: "If we have to use this facility, which I really hope we don't because everyone is staying home and washing their hands and social distancing, we will need thousands of doctors and nurses and volunteers to run this facility."

When asked what the expected number would be, she added: "The numbers are scary, but if I tell you that to run one ward, including all of our ancillary staff, we need 200 members of staff.”

Natalie Forrest is the chief operating officer at the new temporary hospital (PA Images)

The first patients are expected to be admitted this weekend and the ability for full capacity to happen within the next two weeks, less than a month after the initial announcement of the construction.

Opening of the hospital comes on the same day the NHS England chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, announced planning for two more NHS Nightingale hospitals in Bristol and Harrogate.

Final preparations have been completed (PA Images)

Building of other Nightingale hospitals has already been announced for Manchester and Birmingham and each of the five hospitals will serve wider areas than their own region.

Sir Simon said: “It’s nothing short of extraordinary that this new hospital in London has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight … Now we are gearing up to repeat that feat at another four sites across the country to add to the surge capacity in current NHS hospitals.

“We’re giving the go ahead to these additional sites, hoping they may not be needed but preparing in case they are. But that will partly depend on continuing public support for measures to reduce growth in the infection rate by staying at home to save lives.”

Ambulance staff and military personnel await the arrival of the first patients (PA Images)

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