Industry News

NHS plans to turn ExCeL centre into coronavirus hospital

Published: 24 Mar 2020

London venue expected to become 4,000-bed ‘field hospital’ at peak of epidemic

London’s ExCeL centre will be turned into a makeshift 4,000-bed “field hospital” under NHS plans to cope when the peak of the coronavirus epidemic leaves thousands fighting for their lives.

In a complex operation, the conference centre will be turned into a massive critical care unit far bigger than any such facility already in existence in any NHS hospital. Staff will help those who are struggling to breathe, many of whom will be anaesthetised, intubated and put on a ventilator because their lungs have failed.

It will be staffed by a combination of military medical personnel and NHS staff. NHS planners think they will need to press it into service in around a month’s time, when on current trends all the critical care beds in London hospitals are likely to be full, mainly with patients with Covid-19.

The plan to convert the ExCeL has been put together by senior NHS England officials who oversee services in London. They are rushing to expand the availability of critical care beds in the capital, which has seen proportionately many more confirmed cases of coronavirus, deaths from it and also people left in intensive care because of it than anywhere else in Britain.

“The ExCeL will become a field hospital of 4,000 critical care beds,” said one NHS official with knowledge of the plan. “It will be staffed by military medics but it’s still unclear where all the nurses needed will come from.”

The venue, which opened in London’s Docklands in 2000, usually stages a wide range of conferences, trade fairs and sporting events, such as boxing matches.

NHS England London region planners have been forced to prepare to use the ExCeL as an auxiliary or overflow hospital because of the sheer number of people the virus will soon be leaving seriously ill. They fear that, with the number of people left in intensive care with Covid-19 doubling across Britain every three or four days, such a dramatic move will be needed to save lives.

“Because it’s doubling everywhere every few days, and because London is two weeks ahead of the rest of the country in the severity of the impact of the disease, the ExCeL is part of the plan because that doubling means we aren’t going to have the beds,” the official added.

One intensive care consultant said the conversion would be difficult to achieve, given the scarcity of trained critical care staff and ventilators. “That would be the biggest ICU on the planet. I’m not sure how feasible this is, given how much equipment, power and facilities are required,” the medic said.

Some of the staff of the ExCeL field hospital may be those who usually work in private healthcare. NHS England concluded a deal with the sector at the weekend for it to put its resources at the disposal of a health service that leading doctors privately fear may well be overwhelmed by what some have said will be a “tsunami” of people who cannot breathe because of the infection.

There is also speculation that the coming peak of the coronavirus epidemic could force the NHS to also use the O2 concert arena, which is nearby, although across the Thames from the ExCeL.

Asked about the planned future use of the ExCeL, NHS England did not deny the plan.

In a statement the NHS England chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said: “NHS staff are working round the clock gearing up to deal with this unprecedented global health threat. As well as ramping up treatment capacity across all NHS hospitals, we’re getting on with other options too, including new facilities as well as a landmark deal with private hospitals which has put 20,000 staff, 8,000 beds and 1,200 ventilators at our disposal.

“But it remains absolutely vital that this huge mobilisation by the NHS is matched by action from the public which means following medical advice to the letter – please stay at home to save lives.”

A government spokesperson confirmed: “To assist NHS England to prepare for a number of scenarios as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, a team of military planners visited the ExCeL centre in London to determine how the centre might benefit the NHS response to the outbreak.”

The ExCeL centre has 87,000 sq metres of space, drive-in doorways, and a waiting area for 300 vehicles.

It is usually used as an exhibition and conference centre and was host to several events during the 2012 London Olympics.

Article Source: The Guardian



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