The Prince of Wales has hailed the new NHS Nightingale hospital as a “practical message of hope” for coronavirus patients during a “time of national suffering”.
Charles opened the temporary facility at the ExCel centre in east London via a video-link from Scotland and praised its speed of construction as an “almost unbelievable feat of work”.
Attending the ceremony in person was Health Secretary Matt Hancock, senior NHS figures and others involved in the project and all stood two metres apart, observing coronavirus advice.
Mr Hancock said the “extraordinary project”, the core of which was completed in just nine days, was a “testament to the work and the brilliance of the many people involved”.
The heir to the throne, speaking from his home of Birkhall, Aberdeenshire, said the new hospital “offers us an intensely practical message of hope for those who will need it most at this time of national suffering”.
He added: “Let us also pray, ladies and gentlemen, that it will be required for as short a time, and for as few people as possible.”
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.
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 across London.
It was set up by NHS contractors in just over a week with the assistance of around 200 military personnel.
Charles, who this week completed a period of self-isolation after contracting coronavirus, added: “It is without doubt a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat of work in every sense – from its speed of construction as we’ve heard to its size and the skills of those who have created it.
“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.”
NHS Nightingale is due to admit its first Covid-19 patients from next week, while two other temporary hospitals have also been announced for Bristol and Harrogate.
Mr Hancock, who has recovered from Covid-19 and came out of self-isolation on Thursday, was asked about the number of ventilators currently in use and how many are expected to arrive next week.
The Health Secretary told the PA news agency: “We’ve obviously got a big programme to ramp up the number of ventilators and we now have more ventilators than we had before.
“And we’re going to need them for this hospital and I’m just going to go and have a look at that now.”
Pressed for exact numbers, Mr Hancock did not respond.
We are officially open! In less than two weeks, @ExCelLondon has been transformed into London's newest hospital, and we will be available as soon as patients across London and the south of England need us: https://t.co/jEyCb1rBNQ pic.twitter.com/TLSg3j4ZxH— NHS Nightingale London (@NightingaleLDN) April 3, 2020
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.