• Staff asked to move to work in huge conference centre field hospital 
  • ExCel centre will be “first major wave of surge capacity”

NHS staff are being asked to move quickly to work in the new field hospital being constructed at a conference centre in London which will act as a “first major wave of surge capacity”, HSJ can reveal.

The Nightingale Hospital to be opened at the ExCel centre is expected to host up to 4,000 beds in two “wards”, and has been described to HSJ as a “critical care barn”.

In an email from a London trust chief executive to their staff, they are told: “Along with other NHS trusts, we have been asked to identify a range of our people to help staff the new Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in east London.

“This is a key element of the NHS national response to coronavirus and will provide the first major wave of ‘surge’ capacity. The urgency in identifying staff is to allow time for training to take place before opening to patients.”

A response from staff is requested within hours.

The email says: “We have asked divisional clinical leads to identify and approach staff who may be able to be redeployed quickly to the ExCel and, in the interests of time, we are also asking staff directly to come forward to be considered for redeployment. Accommodation will be provided if required.”

London hospitals are running short of critical care capacity with one senior NHS England figure saying on 24 March that the city’s trusts were four days away from running out of critical care beds, if action was not taken to further expand them.

The email said the new hospital should take some pressure off London hospitals by absorbing demand, giving the trusts more time to increase their own capacity.

“I know that many of you are already going above and beyond in our own response to coronavirus, for which I am extremely grateful,” the email said. “This approach is likely to mean we have a bit more time to get all of our own additional capacity up and running.”

The required staff range from consultants, GPs, critical care nurses and pharmacists to non-clinical staff, such as porters and administrators.

The Nightingale Hospital is being built in a cavernous exhibition space in East London. It will provide up to 500 beds with ventilators and oxygen, the NHS said on 24 March. This capacity could increase to “several thousand beds, should it be required”.

NHSE was approached for comment, and pointed to its previous statement which said: “The NHS Nightingale Hospital will draw nurses, doctors and other staff from across the health service, as well as a number of military medics will also tend to patients. The majority will be NHS staff.”