London’s ExCel conference centre will become an emergency hospital treating coronavirus patients “within days”, with 500 beds initially made available at what will be the first of several crisis facilities dotted around the UK.
The cavernous 100,000 sq metre Docklands site is being converted in a high-speed operation involving military planners and personnel, and its capacity will rise quickly from the initial 500 beds, defence sources said on Tuesday. It is intended to deal with the expected surge in coronavirus patients with severe breathing difficulties for whom beds are unlikely to be available in London’s overflowing intensive care units.
“We will next week open a new hospital, a temporary hospital, the NHS Nightingale hospital, at the ExCel centre in London,” Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“The NHS Nightingale hospital will comprise two wards each of 2,000 people. With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians, we will make sure that we have the capacity that we need.”
Defence sources added that “more than one” emergency hospital would be built around the UK, although London is first because the rate of coronavirus infections is considered to be running 1.5 to 2.5 weeks ahead. “We will service and support the whole of the United Kingdom,” a source added.
NHS field hospital sites in Scotland will be identified this week ahead of a predicted rapid rise in Covid-19 cases, the chief medical officer has said.
Dr Catherine Calderwod said she agreed with a senior medic who expects a coronavirus “tsunami” in coming weeks.
She said Scotland was looking to set up temporary hospitals similar to one planned for London.