The home of Welsh rugby is just days away from taking in Covid-19 patients as it prepares to become Wales’ biggest field hospital.
From this weekend the Principality Stadium in Cardiff will temporarily become a facility with potential for up to 2,000 beds to help relieve pressure on the NHS.
On Thursday the finishing touches were being made to convert hospitality suites into hospital wards erected in just four days, ready to accommodate the first 330 beds to be taken up by patients from Sunday.
Contractors were busy laying the foundations for wards on top of the stadium’s famous turf, which in two weeks’ time will be ready to accommodate 2,500 staff members and thousands of volunteer runners at what is officially now known as Dragon’s Heart Hospital.
Officials say the stadium will double the size of Cardiff and Vale Health Board’s health system, and will see 18,000 meals being provided every day, as well as an equal number of bedpans needing emptying and three and a half tonnes of clinical waste needing to be disposed of every day.
Covid-19 patients at the hospital will be treated in large tent-like structures, with around 750 beds on the pitch and 250 on platforms around it, while there will be on-site radiography, laboratories and a pharmacy.
Patients will all be in the recovery phase of treatment to allow existing hospitals to concentrate on critical care.
Len Richards, the health board’s chief executive, said reduced infection rates within the area meant beds will be also available to other health boards, and praised the the Welsh Rugby Union, the stadium’s owners, the council and his colleagues for readying the site at “breakneck speed”.
He said: “We commissioned this about 12 days ago.
“We’ve worked really well together.
“We’ll open up the beds as we need to.
“If, as we think now, we won’t need all of those beds for Cardiff and Vale we will offer them out, so they will be used.
“My sense is it will be a significant player and play a significant part in the health service going forward.”
Mr Richards admitted having “anxieties” about running the facility, but was confident there were enough resources, including personal protective equipment and oxygen tanks, to keep staff and patients safe.
He said the hospital would be available to the health board as long as the lockdown and lack of sporting fixtures continued.
Dr Jonathon Gray, who as director of transformation at the health board has helped oversee the hospital’s creation, expected it to be “extraordinarily busy” when it is fully operational and spoke of his pride at being part of the effort.
He said: “This is going to be an amazing facility, and somewhere I’d be proud to bring my family if I were unfortunate enough to need to do so.
“The degree of volunteering and commitment and people stepping outside of their roles day after day to make this happen is amazing.
“After this, I actually think nothing is too difficult to solve.”
He said there was no figure yet on the cost of the work, and while there was not a “blank cheque” available to the health board it was spending “whatever it takes to save lives”.
He said the neighbouring Cardiff Arms Park, home to Cardiff Blues rugby team, would house a staffing area for workers to eat, dress and shower.