Plans to turn a major conference and events venue in London into a ‘makeshift field hospital’ to deal with huge numbers of COVID-19 patients were rubber-stamped on Tuesday by the Health Secretary.
The move comes it has emerged that a military team had visited the ExCel conference and events centre in the east of the capital, near London City Airport, to assess its viability as an emergency ‘field’ facility.
Today, Health Secretary Matt Hancock – in what he described as Downing Street’s first ‘e-press conference’ – confirmed that the plans are going ahead and the first patients are expected to arrive early next week.
The ExCel centre has the capacity to be – temporarily – turned into a 4,000-bed, two ward facility to be known as the NHS Nightingale Hospital.
Initially, it will provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen – but experts expect it will soon begin to fill its potential capacity of several thousands in the weeks ahead.
Clinicians involved in the initiative have been in contact with counterparts internationally who are opening similar facilities.
Following the Health Secretary’s announcement, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said that the NHS Nightingale Hospital will be “a model of care never needed or seen before in this country”.
Sir Simon said: “Despite these amazing measures, the fact is no health service in the world will cope if coronavirus lets rip, which is why NHS staff are pleading with the public to follow medical advice – stay at home, stop the virus spreading, and save lives.”
EUROPE RACING TO CREATE CAPACITY TO COPE WITH COVID-19 – FOR BOTH THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
The link between the COVID-19 situation in the UK and other countries was not made explicit by officials today, but comparisons are inevitable. In Spain, the military has already stepped in to help health bosses there start to turn the massive IFEMA cconference centre in Madrid into an emergency 5,500-bed ‘field’ hospital.
And today, reports emerged that an ice rink in Madrid has been turned into a temporary morgue to deal with COVID’19’s grim, ruthless and unforeseen piles of corpses.
Health Insurance & Protection understands that similar emergency plans, specifically turning an ice rink in the capital into a temporary morgue, are at advanced stages in the UK as authorities here grapple with the harsh physical reality – and that, sadly, means dead bodies – of COVID-19.
The rapaciously-infectious nature of the virus means tha normal end-of-life arrangements are – at present – no longer viable and public health orders mean that only immediate family members can attend funerals until further notice, regardless of whether the death itself is connected to COVID-19 or not.
Although military personnel have been involved in the planning stages and continue to support NHS England by providing infrastructure, logistics and project management advice, the NHS Nightingale Hospital will be NHS-led, although it is likely that workers from the private sector will be involved at a staffing level to some degree as well.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK’s military planners and engineers are working “hand in hand” with the NHS.
He said: “The NHS and our Armed Forces are both world leaders in their fields, and this ambitious project is just one example of what can be achieved when they come together to help the nation.”
The Health Secretary this evening confirmed that the plans for the ExCel Centre would go ahead as he took questions from journalists via video link – a move that he said was necessary primarily for social distancing requirements, but also one that demonstrated the viability – for many types of workers – of working remotely.
He acknowledged, though, that this is of course not possible for every individual, especially the majority of key workers.
But the Health Secretary stressed that employers have a grave responsibility to do whatever they can to enable home working wherever possible and to ensure social distancing measures are respected within any workplace or, indeed, elsewhere.
Individuals in the UK have been told to work from home where possible in order to minimise social contact and reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 – and journalists across the UK are doing their best to restrain their natural instincts and research and file articles from behind their front door.
Hancock said that while the facility at the ExCel Centre would help to ease some of the burden on the health service, a responsible and widespread public reaction to social distancing instructions, as well as the “stay at home” rules and other measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night, would be the only way that COVID-19 would be beaten in the end – “no matter how big we make the NHS”.