Prince Charles will open the new NHS Nightingale hospital at the ExCeL conference centre in London Docklands on Friday, which will eventually be capable of providing support for up to 4,000 coronavirus patients if required.
Charles, recently recovered from a mild case of Covid-19, will conduct the ceremony via videolink from his Scottish residence at Birkhall, where he self-isolated for seven days last week.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, also recently out of self-isolation following a positive test for coronavirus, and Prof Charles Knight, chief executive of NHS Nightingale, will join a small group representing medical staff, the Ministry of Defence, contractors and volunteers at the new hospital.
It comes as the NHS announces two further NHS Nightingale hospitals will be built in Bristol and Harrogate to provide hundreds of extra beds if local services need them during the peak of coronavirus, in addition to the one at the ExCeL.
The NHS England chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, will confirm on Friday that the extra sites in south-west England and Yorkshire – which will have up to 1,500 beds if needed – have joined Manchester and Birmingham as the latest locations for major new facilities outside of London. Each of the five Nightingale hospitals will serve the wider regions in which they are located.
The new hospital in east London is the first to open and will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen. The capacity will then increase, potentially up to several thousands beds should it be required.
Constructed within nine days, the conversion of the ExCeL conference centre into a field hospital has been cited as perhaps the most ambitious medical project Britain has seen since the end of the second world war, and will dwarf all other hospitals in the UK.
Planning has involved soldiers with experience from Afghanistan and the west African Ebola crisis working in support of health service staff. Up to 200 soldiers a day have been working alongside NHS staff and civilian contractors.
Charles is expected to pay tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to create the new medical facility, and to the people across the UK who are delivering frontline care to those affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Natalie Grey, head of nursing at NHS Nightingale, will unveil a plaque on behalf of Charles marking the occasion.
Stevens said: “It’s nothing short of extraordinary that this new hospital in London has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight … Now we are gearing up to repeat that feat at another four sites across the country to add to the surge capacity in current NHS hospitals.
“We’re giving the go ahead to these additional sites, hoping they may not be needed but preparing in case they are. But that will partly depend on continuing public support for measures to reduce growth in the infection rate by staying at home to save lives.”
The new hospital in Manchester will be built at the city’s Manchester Central complex while the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham will take care of patients as needed in the West Midlands, the region second hardest hit by the virus.
Each of these new services will initially have up to 500 beds, potentially offering as many as 3,000 more between them if cases escalate.
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