Just nine days after construction was begun, Prince Charles officially opened the UK’s first coronavirus hospital – the Nightingale at the ExCeL conference centre in east London – via video link from Scotland. It is the first virtual royal engagement of its kind.
Named after famed Victoria nurse, Florence Nightingale, NHS Nightingale is a new hospital which will provide support for thousands more patients who are in need of medical care during their Covid-19 illness.
It will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen, with the ability to increase capacity, potentially up to several thousand beds, if needed. The UK has seen a total of 2921 deaths from the virus, and nearly 34,000 confirmed cases, as of yesterday’s data.
The ExCeL centre is the largest in the UK, and usually hosts trade shows and conferences. Now, it is a symbol of the scale of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.
A small group of medical staff, plus members of the Ministry of Defence, contractors and volunteers joined Matt Hancock, MP and Health Secretary, as well as Professor Charles Knight, Chief Executive of NHS Nightingale, at the site of the new hospital.
The first NHS Nightingale hospital — @NightingaleLDN — will officially open today at @ExCeLLondon centre. Established from scratch in under a fortnight, it will be available as soon as patients across London and the south of England need it. https://t.co/7NUbJnaoiv pic.twitter.com/oRBLBl08py
— NHS England and NHS Improvement (@NHSEngland) April 3, 2020
All participants were stood the recommended two metres apart, marked by tape on the ground.
The Prince of Wales could be seen on a screen, as he watched from Birkhall. He said a few words in tribute to all those who have worked to create the new medical facility in just two weeks, and to people across the UK who continue to deliver frontline care to those affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Charles said he was ‘extremely touched’ to be asked to open the centre.
“It is without doubt a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat of work in every sense, from its speed of construction in just nine days to its size and the skills of those who have created it,” Charles said.
“An example if ever one was needed of how the impossible can be made possible and how we can achieve the unthinkable through human will and ingenuity.
“The creation of this hospital is the result of an extraordinary collaboration and partnership between NHS managers, the military and all those involved to create a centre on a scale that has never been seen before in the United Kingdom.”
But Prince Charles added “for some it will be a much harder journey.”
The future King, who tested positive for the virus nearly two weeks ago, said he is relieved patients will have the care they need and “every chance to return to a normal life”, like he has done after his own bout of coronavirus.
“This hospital therefore offers us an intensely practical message of hope for those who will need it most at this time of national suffering,” he said.
“Let us also pray Ladies and Gentlemen, that it will be required for as short a time and for as few people as possible.”
A plaque was unveiled at the NHS Nightingale Hospital on behalf of Prince Charles, by Natalie Grey, Head of Nursing at the NHS Nightingale; it says the hospital was opened by the Prince of Wales today, and pays tribute to the engineers, members of the armed forces, NHS staff, contractors and public volunteers who helped to build the hospital.