The Prince of Wales is set to officially open the new NHS Nightingale Hospital for intensive care coronavirus patients today from 530 miles away.
Prince Charles will launch the 4,000-bed temporary facility at the ExCel convention centre in East London via video-link from his Scottish home at Birkhall.
It comes four days after the 71-year-old heir to the throne completed self-isolation following his own diagnosis, although he only suffered ‘mild’ symptoms.
Prince Charles is pictured in a video message issued by Clarence House on Wednesday
Members of the military stand outside the NHS Nightingale Hospital in East London yesterday
Workmen put up security fencing outside the entrance to the ExCel centre on Monday
Construction of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in East London is pictured on Tuesday
Attending the ceremony in person will be Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who also recently came out of isolation after recovering from the virus.
Also there will be NHS Nightingale chief executive Professor Charles Knight and representatives from the Ministry of Defence, contractors and volunteers.
The Prince is expected to say a few words from his property in Royal Deeside in tribute to all those who have worked to create the new medical facility.
He will also speak to people across the UK who continue to deliver frontline care to those affected by the virus.
People watch the construction effort outside the ExCel Centre in East London yesterday
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall greet guests during the Commonwealth Reception at Marlborough House in London on Commonwealth Day on March 9
The Nightingale, named after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, will need an army of up to 16,000 staff in clinical and ancillary roles to keep it running.
Health Secretary promises 100,000 virus tests a day by May
Matt Hancock last night pledged a tenfold increase in coronavirus testing after admitting Britain had fallen behind on the ‘critical’ issue.
The Health Secretary said testing would be increased from about 10,000 a day to 100,000 a day by the end of the month, with private-sector laboratories finally invited to help out.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock at 10 Downing Street in Westminster yesterday
Mr Hancock, who was on his first day back in the office after testing positive for the virus, also said frontline NHS staff who need a test will be able to get one by the end of the month.
Speaking at the Government’s daily press conference in Downing Street, he said he had come back from quarantine ‘redoubled in my determination to fight this virus with everything I’ve got’.
Mr Hancock said observing the lockdown was the most important factor in slowing the epidemic, but acknowledged testing was ‘mission critical’.
Mr Hancock’s testing pledge came as:
- Some of the biggest firms in Britain, including British Airways, Topshop owner Arcadia and car giant Nissan, suspended tens of thousands of staff using the Government’s job subsidy scheme in a move that could cost taxpayers £60 billion;
- The UK’s death toll soared to 2,921, with a record 569 people dying in a single day;
- The number of coronavirus cases worldwide passed the million mark;
- Millions across the country lined the street at 8pm to applaud NHS staff fighting the virus, in the second weekly Clap the Carers event;
- Downing Street said Boris Johnson was still suffering ‘mild’ symptoms of coronavirus a week after testing positive and may not be ready to leave quarantine today;
- More than £13 billion of historic hospital debt will be written off to ease cash concerns;
- NHS medical director Steve Powis suggested the lockdown is set to continue for weeks;
- Despite the surge in cases, Mr Hancock said the NHS still had 1,821 spare critical care beds, even before major new Nightingale field hospitals open in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Harrogate;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak moved to force banks to make it easier for companies to get government-backed loans to help them through the crisis;
- Mr Hancock urged Premier League footballers to ‘take a pay cut’.
After days of mounting criticism, Mr Hancock said he wanted to ‘level’ with the public about the difficulties ministers had faced in trying to ramp up testing.
He said the UK had fallen behind countries such as Germany, which is already testing more than 70,000 people a day.
But he said this was because the UK ‘did not have the scale’ for mass testing at the start of the outbreak, adding: ‘We have had to build from a lower base.’
Split into more than 80 wards containing 42 beds each, the facility will be used to treat Covid-19 patients who have been transferred from other intensive care units.
Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, will host the event with Mr Hancock and Mr Knight due to give brief remarks.
Natalie Grey, head of nursing at NHS Nightingale, will then unveil a plaque on behalf of Charles to mark the Hospital’s official opening.
It was set up by NHS contractors, with the assistance of around 200 military personnel, in a matter of weeks.
But health officials fear communications and a lack of clinically trained staff will present some of the biggest challenges for the new facility.
Leaked documents seen by the Health Service Journal reveal communication is envisaged to be a problem due to the building’s poor acoustics and because all staff will be working in an unfamiliar setting in a team of people they have never met before.
The papers also warned that non-specialist nurses may be asked to perform ‘unfamiliar’ tasks, such as dealing with complications arising from intubation, normally only done by intensive care nurses.
On Wednesday, a croaky Charles issued a video message of hope, praising the nation’s ‘extraordinary, selfless and heroic’ NHS staff.
He also hailed shop workers, calling them Britain’s ‘new emergency service’.
Charles said he was all too aware of the issues posed by social distancing and isolation, particularly for the elderly.
The film was shot on a member of staff’s iPhone in the study of Birkhall. Charles described his illness as ‘relatively mild’ but his throaty voice was an indication he had not entirely recovered.
His ‘working from home dress’ was reassuringly formal – a tweed jacket, blue check shirt and matching tie and pocket handkerchief.
The future king had an NHS test on March 23. He was diagnosed the next day, and released from self-isolation on Monday, but worked throughout his sickness.
He said: ‘As we are all learning, this is a strange, frustrating and often distressing experience when the presence of family and friends is no longer possible and the normal structures of life are suddenly removed.’
Charles, 71, patron of Age UK, praised the ‘doctors, nurses and all the vital ancillary staff that form the backbone of our remarkable NHS and are increasingly under such enormous strain, and risk, as they battle heroically to save lives’.
The heir to the throne added: ‘We also think of all those many shop workers who are toiling as hard as they can throughout each and every night to keep supermarket shelves stocked – a further ’emergency service’ on which we are all relying.’
He finished with a message of hope, saying: ‘None of us can say when this will end, but end it will.’
Charles, who is residing at Birkhall on the Balmoral estate, was diagnosed as having Covid-19 following a test on the NHS in Aberdeenshire.
Fortunately, he only suffered what were described as ‘mild’ symptoms and carried on working throughout.
Royal sources said the prince was in ‘good health’ and his self-isolation lasted seven days ‘in accordance with government and medical guidelines’.
He is now said to be operating under ‘standard’ government and medical nationwide restrictions.
Soldiers help prepare the ExCel London on Monday as it is turned into a 4,000-bed hospital
This MailOnline graphic shows who Prince Charles met in the 16 days leading up to the announcement by Clarence House that he had contracted coronavirus
Prince Charles with his wife Camilla, the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9
It’s understood that he will continue to hold meetings over the phone and via video conferencing, talking to the many charities he supports to see if he can help them through the current crisis.
How big is NHS Nightingale, who will it treat and why the name?
The new NHS Nightingale Hospital, which has been set up to treat the rising numbers of Covid-19 victims, is set to open today. Here’s what we know about the new temporary facility:
– Why ‘Nightingale’?
The NHS Nightingale Hospital is named after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, who helped soldiers during the Crimean War – fought from 1853-56. The Hospital’s wards will also be named after influential British nurses such as Seacole, Saunders and Kinnair.
– Where is it being built?
The new facility is being set up by converting the 100-acre site of the ExCel convention centre in Newham, east London. The location was only announced to the public on March 24, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that similar facilities would soon be set up in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
– By whom?
A combination of NHS staff, contractors and up to 200 military personnel have taken part in construction – which was completed in just nine days. Some workers are reported to have taken on 15-hour shifts to get the work done as quickly as possible.
– Who will it treat?
The facility will be used to treat Covid-19 patients who have been transferred from other intensive care units (ICU) across London. Those who are admitted to the Hospital will already be on a ventilator and will remain at the Nightingale until their course of ventilation is finished, the Hospital’s chief medical director has said. Coronavirus patients suffering from other serious conditions – such as cardiac issues – will be cared for at other specialist centres.
– How many patients can it treat?
NHS Nightingale will have a 4,000 bed capacity and will be split into more than 80 wards containing 42 beds each. Mr Hancock said that it will be the ‘equivalent of 10 district general hospitals.’
– What about staff?
Up to 16,000 staff may be required to run the facility at full capacity. Hundreds of volunteers from the St John Ambulance charity with differing levels of clinical training have volunteered to help out with operations, with around 100 expected to work every shift.
– How will they be looked after?
Staff working at the Nightingale will be able to sleep at nearby hotels once they finish their shift, the Hospital’s director of nursing, Eamonn Sullivan, said – though they can also choose to go home.
– Is there enough equipment and resources?
The Nightingale will use all ‘new kit’, but concerns have been raised that staffing the Hospital with bank staff might lead to shortfalls in other parts of the health service. Bosses at the Hospital are reportedly worried about the number of ambulances and trained crew needed to bring cases to the site. Draft clinical models seen estimate 60 ambulances will be needed to facilitate emergency transfers.
He is also in touch with his Duchy of Cornwall land stewards about supporting his tenants, particularly in the south west of England.
But is now also able to get some exercise outdoors, walking in his beloved Scottish Highlands.
His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, tested negative for the virus but immediately went into self-isolation and will remain so – in a different part of the house – until the end of the week.
Sources say Camilla has shown no sign of the virus.
The Mail revealed last week that Camilla has been cheering herself up by chatting with her family via video on the popular Houseparty app.
The Prince began to experience symptoms of Covid-19 as he flew up to Scotland from Highgrove, his Gloucestershire home.
He is said to have been in ‘good spirits’ throughout his sickness.
Last week, a member of the Scottish Parliament expressed surprise that the Prince was tested for Covid-19 on the NHS.
Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, wished him a speedy recovery but added: ‘Given that his symptoms are said to be mild, like many I wonder how he was tested when many NHS and social care workers cannot get tested.
‘My nephew, who has serious asthma and a chest infection was recently refused a test.’
Royal sources insisted, however, that both Charles and Camilla met ‘local criteria for testing’.
The NHS Scotland website says people will only generally be tested for Covid-19 if they ‘have a serious illness that requires admission to Hospital’.
Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief medical officer, defended the decision to test Charles and his wife, saying there were ‘very good reasons’.
She said: ‘My understanding is there were very good reasons for that person and his wife to be tested, and obviously I wouldn’t be able to disclose anything else that I know because of patient confidentiality.’
Footage of Charles joining the nation in applauding the country’s health workers last Friday, while still suffering from the virus, was previously posted on Clarence House’s official Instagram account.
Clarence House, Charles’s official London office, is currently closed down as a result of the virus lockdown, with staff working from home.
Charles has had a packed public schedule, including the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9, where he was with Boris Johnson and his pregnant partner Carrie Symonds, and other senior royals, including the Queen.
Mr Johnson has also since tested positive for coronavirus, although this was nearly three weeks after their meeting.
On March 10, Charles attended a round table conference with Prince Albert of Monaco, who subsequently revealed he had tested positive for Covid-19.
That week Charles also met celebrities including Ant and Dec and Ronnie Wood at a major Prince’s Trust Event, held an investiture at Buckingham Palace, and attended a charity dinner with Lord Archer and his wife, Dame Mary.
On March 13, the prince went to stay at Highgrove, where he was visited by the Duchess of Cornwall, who has a home, Raymill, nearby, and held private meetings with staff, organisations and tenants.