Work has begun on a new temporary hospital at UWE Bristol to provide up to 1,000 beds if needed during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
The NHS has confirmed the university’s exhibition and conference centre at Frenchay is currently being converted and is expected to be fully operational this month.
It comes as the country’s first Nightingale hospital, at London’s Excel centre, is due to officially open its doors, with additional facilities also planned for Manchester, Birmingham and Harrogate.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, called it “nothing short of extraordinary” that the facility has been established from scratch in less than a fortnight.
“The NHS, working with the military, has done in a matter of days what usually takes years,” he said.
“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.”
North Bristol NHS Trust deputy medical director Tim Whittlestone, who has been leading on clinical input to the planning, added: “If everyone across the South West keeps observing the social isolation rules to stop the virus spreading, hopefully we’ll never need this hospital.
“But this is an extraordinary time so it’s only right we have more capacity in place. I’m extremely grateful to our wonderful NHS staff for rising to the current challenge, but they cannot do this alone. They need everyone to follow the expert advice to stay home and save lives.”
Accommodation that is not currently being used by students will also be made available for NHS staff at UWE’s Frenchay campus to provide doctors and nurses with easy access to the new emergency facility.
The Nightingale hospital is expected to remain operational over the summer and the site will be returned to the university ready for the next academic year in the autumn.
Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor at UWE Bristol, said: “I’m pleased we are able to offer our facilities to help the NHS and support the local community and wider region at this exceptionally challenging time.
“These temporary arrangements on our Frenchay campus have the potential to save many lives and play a vitally important role in limiting the impact of coronavirus in the South West.
“As a university community, we have already demonstrated how we can support the NHS and frontline services, and there is more we will be doing in future to contribute to the national effort.”
There will be clearly defined separate zones across the campus to ensure NHS staff and patients are separated from UWE Bristol staff and students on site at all times to prevent the spread of the virus.
The new temporary facility will serve as a support hospital for the whole of the South West but it will be formally hosted by North Bristol NHS Trust on behalf of the region.
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group Chief Executive, Julia Ross, who has been leading the setup phase, said: “Having hugely ramped up beds, facilities and services, we are confident that all our local hospitals are ready to deal with the expected increase in patients with coronavirus over the coming weeks.
“However, based on other countries’ experience of the pandemic, it’s only right that we have even more surge capacity in place to protect our local population should it be needed.”
Main photo courtesy of UWE Bristol