Military working 15-hour shifts to build London’s Covid-19 field hospital

Military personnel have been working 15-hour shifts to help build London’s new 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale hospital.

Construction work to transform the ExCel convention centre in east London into a temporary hospital began on Wednesday, with NHS staff and the military involved in its planning.

Seven days on and the facility is almost ready to begin taking in Covid-19 patients from hospitals across the capital.

Coronavirus
The ExCel centre is being turned into a temporary hospital (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, from the Army Medical Services, said plans for the hospital were only conceived on March 21 in a meeting between the NHS and military.

Since then, up to 200 personnel, including infantry from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, have been assisting contractors and NHS staff with its construction.

Col Boreham, who is the project’s senior military lead, supporting the advisory mentoring team, told the PA news agency: “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.”

He said the number of military personnel on site has expanded from eight to 60 over the past week, ranging from medical advisers, engineers and logistics staff.

However, the numbers increased further when infantry soldiers were brought in to help at the peak of the facility’s construction.

“It’s long hours,” Col Boreham said on Tuesday.

“It’s like what they would normally do on operations.

“It’s longer hours than what people are used to working in some parts of the organisation.

“We start at about 7am in the morning and will finish at 10pm at night and we have been here since the start.”

Col Boreham said all military staff were on a rotation system to ensure they are given time to rest and recuperate.

He said the ExCel centre was chosen by the NHS, but supported by military planners due to its existing utilities.

“This site is perfect,” he said.

“It has a corridor down the middle, it has got big areas to create wards and bays and sufficient utilities to sustain a facility of this size.”

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