ExCeL to be transformed into COVID-19 hospital

London’s ExCeL Centre will be converted into a makeshift hospital from next week in an effort to help the NHS deal with pressures caused by COVID-19, which are intensifying in the English capital.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, confirmed the move at the government’s daily COVID-19 press conference yesterday (Tuesday). He said: “Next week, we will open a new temporary hospital, the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCeL Centre in London.

“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 so that everyone can get the support that they need.”

The Department of Health reported yesterday that the number of COVID-19 deaths in the UK rose to 422, with more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus. The ExCeL opened in London’s Docklands in 2000 and is used to host conferences, trade fairs and sporting events.

The facility’s event halls offer more than 87,000 square metres of space and capacity for over 68,000 visitors, while there are several smaller areas within the venue. ITV News reported that military planners visited the ExCeL on Sunday to see how the site could be utilised.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “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 field hospital is expected to be used to deal with the expected surge in COVID-19 patients with severe breathing difficulties for whom beds are unlikely be available in London’s busy intensive care units. The capital is currently believed to be between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half weeks ahead of the rest of the UK, but The Guardian newspaper, citing defence sources, said “more than one” emergency hospital is set to be built around the UK.

Birmingham’s NEC Group, which operates the West Midlands city’s NEC exhibition centre and Resorts World Arena and Arena Birmingham, said it “stands ready” and is “well-equipped” should it be considered a suitable location for a temporary hospital.

In a statement, a spokeswoman said: “We are and have been in constant communication with the local NHS trust, police and fire service, and the services are fully aware of the capabilities of the venue. We will do our utmost to support the effort in combating the virus.”

The ExCel news comes with venues across the world seeking to adapt to assist in the fight against COVID-19. The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has said it will make Principality Stadium available to the Welsh Assembly government and the NHS.

The Cardiff stadium, which has a retractable roof, has previously been used as a temporary hospital by St John Wales during New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Welsh capital. The WRU’s announcement comes after Welsh Pro14 rugby union team Scarlets said it will be able to provide extra beds during the pandemic if needed following discussions with Carmarthenshire County Council.

“We have approached the authorities and they’re aware that our facilities will be made available if and when required,” a WRU spokesperson told the WalesOnline website.

“We’ve worked alongside the authorities over many years at our events and they’re familiar with the stadium. This is an incredibly fast moving and challenging time. The authorities were grateful for us getting in touch and we continue working together to monitor the situation.”

Elsewhere, with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) having agreed that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales until at least May 28, county clubs have offered up their facilities for use. Durham Cricket have offered the use of Emirates Riverside to the local council and NHS, as well as the support of their staff.

Kent Cricket has done likewise with The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence. Kent Cricket CEO, Simon Storey, said: “We are uniquely placed to take a leading role in ensuring that communities across Kent are ready to face the challenges ahead.

“With two well-equipped venues in Canterbury and Beckenham and with our network of 300 clubs across both the county and metropolitan Kent, we have a responsibility to serve our communities beyond the boundary.”

Premier League football club Watford has offered all of its facilities for the exclusive use of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) during the pandemic. With easy access straight into the hospital site from Vicarage Road stadium’s Graham Taylor Stand, Watford said senior NHS staff are currently co-ordinating their exact requirements with the club ready to act accordingly.

Watford said it is preparing to host NHS staff induction courses, urgent meeting spaces, warehousing needs, childcare facilities and more. “We need to forget football right now and concentrate on doing all we can to support the NHS and, in particular, Watford General Hospital,” said chairman and CEO Scott Duxbury.

“Our proximity as a football club next door to a hospital puts us in a great position to offer help and we’re keen to do whatever we possibly can to support NHS staff and their families.”

League One club Burton Albion has offered the facilities at its Pirelli Stadium for use by the NHS and the emergency services and has donated food that would have been used for matchday hospitality or conferences to the YMCA for distribution to those in need.

Commercial director Fleur Robinson said: “We thought the stadium and the boxes and suites could be useful if hospitals needed overflow space for less urgent checks and appointments or it could be a base for delivering food supplies if the movement of people becomes even more restricted. We have contacted the NHS, police and the council and have said that the stadium is available, and we hope we can help.”

Professional football in England has been further postponed until at least April 30 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Image: ExCeL