Coronavirus UK: Military planners looking at more makeshift hospital sites

26 March 2020, 07:46

The conference venue will be turned into a 4,000 person field hospital
The conference venue will be turned into a 4,000 person field hospital. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Government officials are looking to create around ten more makeshift hospitals to help deal ith the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been reported.

Sources have said military planners are looking at sites across the country to turn them into makeshift coronavirus hospitals similar to how London's ExCel has been used.

Sky News cited a Whitehall source and reported military planners were examining five locations in support of the Department of Health and Social Care.

The source would not confirm locations but said they would likely include major cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.

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The members of the military are part of the Covid-19 support force which will open and run the NHS Nightingale hospital, with the capacity to treat 4,000 coronavirus patients across two super wards.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, revealed at a Government Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday that the exhibition hall in east London would open next week after being retrofitted as a hospital.

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Military officers arrive at the new NHS Nightingale hospital
Military officers arrive at the new NHS Nightingale hospital. Picture: PA

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Over the last 24-hours military staff and healthcare workers have been pictured in and around the ExCel centre helping to establish an initial medical facility which is thought to be able to treat up to 500 patients.

St John Ambulance staff leave the ExCel centre
St John Ambulance staff leave the ExCel centre. Picture: PA

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Converting the ExCeL London into a pop-up hospital to treat the country's sick during the coronavirus outbreak is a huge logistical operation - but one the military is prepared for, a retired British general has said.

Soldiers in fatigues were spotted at the exhibition and conference centre's loading bays in east London's former Royal Victoria Docks site on Wednesday morning, though it is understood the military's involvement is limited at the moment.

A number of large vans and forklift trucks were also seen going onto the site.

There was little other sign of the mammoth transformation being underway as onlookers stopped by the ExCeL ahead of the hospital treating its first patients from next week.

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Major General Timothy Cross, who ran Nato's emergency relief operation in Kosovo and Macedonia in the 1990s, said it was a "big process" to create a field hospital, but said the military was used to it.

Maj Gen Cross said: "What you've got in the ExCeL centre is a large, open space with power, lighting, water, sanitation, good accessibility but also obviously the ability to isolate.

"That's the sort of thing one's looking for deploying on operations in various places around the world.

"It's a big process, but there's a process for setting it all up."

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The NEC in Birmingham said it also "stands ready" and is "well equipped" to become a temporary hospital after reports suggested the site was another location being considered by the Government.

There are currently three regular medical field hospitals across England, where military personnel work alongside NHS staff.

These are at Keogh Barracks in Aldershot, Strensall in North Yorkshire, and Fort Blockhouse in Gosport.