Soldiers helping to build the Nightingale hospital in London have compared the coronavirus crisis to the Battle of the Somme as the 4,000-bed NHS unit at the ExCeL centre is set to accept its first patients today.
Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, who has carried out two tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan, said it was the biggest mission of his career.
As commanding officer of 256 City of London Field Hospital, he is in charge of military personnel working on the NHS facility.
Built in around ten days, it will have 4,000 beds for coronavirus patients when it opens this week. Similar hospitals are being installed in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow to ease pressure on existing sites.
‘My grandfather was at the Somme, this is no different. I’m just at a different battle. I’m from London, I have friends and family in London. Many of the people working here, many of the soldiers working here, are from London.
‘We are doing this to save the lives of Londoners. These are our comrades, there’s no difference. It doesn’t matter if they are civilian or military.’
He said the NHS, which is leading the project, and the military had ‘one single purpose, one single aim to save lives’. Colonel Boreham, who joined the Army in 1992, is due to retire in a few weeks and take up a job at an NHS clinical commissioning group.
The 54-year-old father of two said his wife was a front-line NHS worker and his daughter was volunteering to distribute food during the crisis.
His mother, 88, is in ‘lockdown’ at home in London, as is his son, he said.
Speaking about his mother, he said: ‘She has been proud of me since the moment I joined the army.’ He said having family close by meant that the mission against the virus was ‘very personal’.
He said: ‘It is very personal, it cannot be anything else. It focuses the mind, and that is why you have everyone pulling together.’
During a tour in Afghanistan in 2013-14, he was commander med which meant he was responsible for all the military medical services in the war-zone.
Helping to oversee the building of NHS Nightingale is his last job before he retires.
‘At every stage, the NHS are leading this, we are literally just doing that little bit of assisting and planning. They are amazing’, he said.
Comparing the mission to his time in Afghanistan and Iraq, Col Boreham said: ‘The difference here is that it is at scale.’
He went on: ‘The challenges are the same, the threats are in a different way. It is more the threat is one we can’t see.’
He said two weeks ago he had no idea he was facing such a task but was called in and sat around a table with the NHS, ‘over a brew’ and mapped out the plan.
Up to 200 soldiers a day have been helping in the construction of the Docklands hospital.
They are carrying out medical planning, logistics, engineering and tasks such as building beds, laying floors, and carrying out electrics and plumbing.
Sergeant Mark Anderson, 32, 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, is also on the project. He has served for 15 years, carrying out tours of Iraq, four tours of Afghanistan and was part of a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
He said: ‘It’s a new experience. It is an invisible enemy and we all need to work together to combat the outbreak. Everyone has been working flat out to the best of their ability to get this place up and running in the quickest possible time.’
He added: ‘The only way we are going to do it is everyone coming together which we have done at NHS Nightingale.’
He said arriving at the ExCel centre had ‘hit home’ what the UK is facing and the ‘reality of the scale of the outbreak’.
‘I didn’t join the army expecting something like this to happen. It’s not to say we are not ready and not prepared’, he said.
‘Everyone has been working flat out to the best of their ability to get this place up and running in the quickest possible time.’
Lt Michael Andrews, 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, said he had been pulled off a training mission in Sierra Leone to fly back to Britain and help with COVID-19.
The 24-year-old, who is part of the effort to help construction workers with general tasks, said: ‘We are enormously proud to be part of such a momentous task.
‘It has been quite incredible to see the team effort, people from the NHS, civil services and military coming together in what is such an important time in this nation’s history.’
More than 16,000 members of staff could be needed to run the temporary hospital if it reaches its near 4,000-bed capacity. It will be split into more than 80 wards containing 42 beds each.
The facility will be used to treat COVID-19 patients transferred from intensive care units across London.
Chief operating officer Natalie Forrest said last night: ‘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 one ward we need 200 members of staff.’
The hospital will initially care for 42 patients as a trial run.
Split into more than 80 wards containing 42 beds each, the Nightingale will become one of the biggest hospitals in the world, according to Ms Forrest.
The facility will be used to treat COVID-19 patients who have been transferred from other intensive care units (ICU) across London.
Speaking to visiting reporters, Ms Forrest said a ‘scary’ number of staff would be needed to run the facility at full capacity and appealed for volunteers to come forward.
‘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,’ she said.
Asked to clarify how many are required, Ms Forrest said: ‘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.’
The hospital will initially aim to care for 42 patients before its expansion is ‘ramped up’ to ensure it can meet its full 4,000-bed capacity in two weeks’ time if needed, the Nightingale’s chief medical director Alan McGlennan said.
He said coronavirus patients who are transferred to the hospital will already be on a ventilator and will remain at the Nightingale until their course of ventilation is finished.
Coronavirus patients suffering from other serious conditions – such as cardiac issues – will be better cared for at other specialist centres, Mr McGlennan said.
While the Nightingale will be able to provide up to 4,000 ventilator beds if they are needed, NHS London will still have control over the ‘most precious resources’, he added.
Eamonn Sullivan, the hospital’s director of nursing, said the facility will be able to operate as a large intensive care unit or a normal ward, depending on demand.
The Nightingale will also include support services found in other NHS hospitals, such as pharmacies and therapy treatment, Mr Sullivan said.
Meanwhile, staff working at the Nightingale will be able to sleep at nearby hotels once they finish their shift, Mr Sullivan said.
‘We have got the facility here at ExCel and there is many, many thousands of hotel rooms. It is a perfect location,’ he said.
‘If staff wanted to stay, they could stay, so it is optional. But if they want to go home, then they can.’
An NHS England spokesman said the equipment being used at the Nightingale was all ‘new kit’ and had not been borrowed from other hospitals.
The Guardian reported earlier this week that the temporary London hospital has been built to treat people who are at a lower risk of dying from the disease, so it will mostly treat the Capital’s younger patients who were healthy before the outbreak.
Older patients or those who are at a higher risk of death will be treated at NHS hospitals around London.
A senior doctor with knowledge of the government’s planned response told the paper: ‘There is a two-tier system but it’s a medically appropriate two-tier system.
‘The sick will go to the ExCel and the very sick will stay in hospital, because that’s an appropriate use of NHS resources.
‘Anyone who goes to either place will be critically ill, be suffering lung failure and be on life support through a ventilator. But those at the ExCel will be those needing less life support as they will be the ones with nothing else wrong with them,’ the doctor added.
A retired nurse from Northern Ireland will go back to work on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic to head the new mega-hospital.
Deirdre Barr, 62, will come out of retirement to work as director of operations at the new Nightingale Hospital in East London, which is preparing to house thousands of COVID-19 patients.
Barr, from Bogside, has served the NHS for 40 years, after joining as a St John Ambulance cadet.
She will now leave her home in Kent to work at the new hospital amid the global pandemic.
Her sister Dolores, 74, said that although the family were concerned for Barr, they were extremely proud of her decision.
‘This is a massive job, and we’re scared for Deirdre, but we are so very proud that she has taken it on. If anyone can do this, Deirdre can. She’s always been the one person her whole family turns to in times of trouble and sickness.
‘Now the whole of the UK will be turning to her. She’ll handle it well. She has broad shoulders and never shirks from responsibility.
‘This job is going to ask an awful lot of her but we know she’ll face it head-on. The pictures we are seeing of the Nightingale Hospital are terrifying but our Deirdre will take it all in her stride,’ she told the Daily Mirror.
It comes as NHS nurses from all over the UK are sent to London as the capital is set to be struck by a ‘tsunami’ of cases in the coming weeks.
Air cabin crew will join doctors and nurses in staffing the new Nightingale hospitals built to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the NHS has said.
Staff at Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet have been invited to volunteer at the new 4,000-bed clinic being built at the Excel Centre in east London, and those planned in Birmingham and Manchester.
Their salaries will continue to be paid by the airlines as an astonishing 750,000 other Britons joined the NHS volunteer army in just five days.
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.
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.
St John’s Ambulance have already said that hundreds of people will give their time at the first Nightingale hospital in London.
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.’
EasyJet has said it is ‘proud’ its staff can support medics at this ‘crucial time’.
Tina Milton, director of cabin services, 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.’
Earlier this week grim photos revealed the refrigerated morgue inside the new NHS Nightingale Hospital at London’s ExCel Centre.
Pictures showed huge refrigerator units and rows of beds for the bodies of those killed by COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Work has also begun to transform the Welsh rugby stadium into a 500-bed hospital for coronavirus patients.
The rugby union stadium in Wales is the latest venue to be turned into a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients, with Parc y Scarlets expected to be operational in two weeks and provide up to 500 extra beds.
Work began last Monday to convert three areas of the stadium complex in Llanelli for medical use as the Scarlets work in partnership with the Hywel Dda University Health Board and Carmarthenshire County Council.
The Juno Moneta Arena training facility will house 252 beds, while there will also be a hospital area in the Quinnell Lounge in the South Stand and the first-floor concourse.
The beds in Llanelli are in addition to around 2,000 which are set to be installed at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff as Wales prepares itself for the peak of the pandemic.
The Welsh locations will join others being be built inside UK venues including the SEC in Glasgow, Manchester Central Convention Complex, Birmingham’s NEC and the new NHS Nightingale hospital at ExCel in London.
The news comes as a record-breaking 381 coronavirus deaths and 3,009 cases were declared in the UK yesterday, on what was Britain’s darkest day so far in the ever-worsening crisis.
Some 1,789 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have now died, while the total infection toll has surpassed 25,000 – but the true size of the outbreak remains a mystery because of the UK’s controversial policy to only test patients in hospital.
The number of new deaths recorded yesterday was twice as high as the 180 victims recorded on Monday. But there was only a 14 per cent jump in daily cases – up from 2,619.
And the number of hospital admissions appears to have slowed, going up by a ‘constant amount’ each day, data shows – with around 1,000 new patients a day being treated by the NHS.
One of Tuesday’s victims was only 19 years old and had no underlying conditions that made them more vulnerable to the life-threatening complications of the illness. MailOnline understands their death was recorded at North Middlesex University Hospital in Enfield, north London.
A 13-year-old London schoolboy was revealed last night to have become Britain’s youngest coronavirus victim.
Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton, London, died alone at King’s College Hospital in London on Monday, with family members unable to visit him in fear of catching the deadly virus. He is not thought to have had any underlying health conditions.
News of Ismail’s death was shared on a GoFundMe page created by Madinah College, in Brixton, to raise money for his funeral and was later confirmed by King’s College Hospital.
The boy’s family, who also recently lost his father to cancer, said they would not be releasing any photos of Ismail and that they were ‘beyond devastated’.