As the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK began to rise, the National Health Service (NHS) realized it might be short of many thousands of ICU beds.
It hopes the solution lies in a massive convention space in London’s East End, the ExCel Center — a venue more accustomed to showcasing the latest ventilator technology than actually using it.
The coronavirus field hospital will be called NHS Nightingale, after the pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale.
“Oh my goodness, there is no comparison,” said Natalie Forrest, when asked about the hospital’s scale.
Normally an executive at London’s Royal Free Hospital, Forrest is the operational guru responsible for transforming the empty halls into a functioning hospital in less than a week.
When fully running, it will have 4,000 beds. Just a few dozen were ready at the time a CNN crew visited. Electricians were still running cables, plumbers installing sinks, and vast halls were still stacked with plastic-wrapped machinery.
“Obviously we don’t want to use those beds,” Forrest said. “If we have to use this facility, which again I really hope we don’t… we will need thousands of doctors and nurses and volunteers to run this facility.”
Medical director Dr. Alan McGlennan said he was most concerned about staffing, rather than equipment.
“Critical care nurses are in very short supply,” he said.
NHS Nightingale won’t be a hospital in a traditional sense. There will be no front door, no waiting rooms. But the site will provide vital extra critical-care capacity for London’s hospitals as pressure grows.
“We will be receiving patients from ICUs across London,” Forrest said. “So not all types of patients — just patients who are sedated and ventilated, and need to be cared for in an ICU.”
Britain has more than 25,400 coronavirus cases, with nearly 1,800 deaths, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.