Coronavirus: ExCeL Centre planned as NHS field hospital

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The NHS will treat coronavirus patients in a makeshift field hospital in the ExCeL Centre in East London.

The exhibition space, which has been used in the past for Crufts and Comic Con, will hold up to 4,000 patients.

Dubbed the NHS Nightingale Centre, the temporary base will be staffed by NHS medics with the help of the military.

The Ministry of Defence said a team of military planners had visited the centre along with NHS England staff at the weekend.

A spokesperson said they hoped to “determine if the armed forces could support the NHS response to the outbreak”, by using their expertise in planning and logistics.

The staff may include students and retired nurses and doctors returning to the workforce.

In response to the UK’s call for retired medics to return to the NHS, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more than 11,500 have come forward, including 2,660 doctors and 6,147 nurses.

More than 18,000 medical students will also join the NHS workforce.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC the military was also seeking out other possible locations for to treat patients who cannot be accommodated in normal NHS facilities.

‘Ramping up capacity’

This comes amid concerns NHS intensive care units will be overwhelmed by extra patients.

Northwick Park Hospital in north-west London declared a critical incident on Friday after it ran out of intensive care beds.

As well as assisting with planning, during the coronavirus outbreak military personnel have also been used to deliver emergency supplies of masks, and are being trained in how to drive oxygen tankers.

They have not yet been deployed to enforce social distancing measures.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “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.”

Similar plans have been undertaken elsewhere – Madrid has turned its IFEMA exhibition centre into a treatment centre for coronavirus patients, while a hospital in the French city of Mulhouse is using its car park as a field hospital.

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