UK & US

Military chief helping build virus hospital on mission to save lives

A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is heading the military side of an unprecedented push to turn an exhibition centre in London into a giant coronavirus hospital.

Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, commanding officer of 256 City of London Field Hospital, says his team is united with the NHS on a single mission to save lives.

"It's the biggest job I've ever done," he said, referring to the conversation of the ExCel centre in east London into the Nightingale, a temporary hospital that is set to start accepting COVID-19 patients this week.

Take a look inside NHS Nightingale

"But you know what, I've spent 27 years [in the military] on a journey to this moment.

"I've got the experience, I'm the right person at the right time, maybe, for this particular project."

Advertisement

NHS London is leading the operation with support from dozens of service personnel, including those like Col Boreham with experience of field hospitals in war zones.

But this time – on home turf and with the enemy an invisible virus instead of opposition forces – it is different, more personal.

More from Covid-19

Colonel Ashleigh Boreham is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pic: MoD
Image: Colonel Ashleigh Boreham is a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pic: MoD

"I'm from London, I have friends and family in London," said Col Boreham, who is the head of the medical advisory and mentoring team helping the NHS.

"Many of the people working here, many of the soldiers working here, are from London.

"It is very personal, it cannot be anything else.

"It focuses the mind, and that is why you have everyone pulling together, there is one common purpose. You are saving people's lives."

More than 16,000 members of staff could be needed to run London's new NHS Nightingale Hospital
Image: More than 16,000 members of staff could be needed to run NHS Nightingale. Pic: MoD

The married father-of-two, whose unit is a mixture of regular soldiers and reservists, was serving out his final few weeks in the army when the call came less than a fortnight ago, asking him to explore whether the ExCel centre could be made into a 4,000-bed hospital.

He said: "We literally got a phone call, arrived here, met up with the NHS about nine days ago, sat around a table and basically did what you always do.

"We draw a plan up, over a brew, and then from that you start to build up a plan and create the product."

Dozens of service personnel have helped build NHS Nightingale. Pic: MoD
Image: Dozens of service personnel have helped build NHS Nightingale. Pic: MoD

A team of about 60 to 65 military personnel – though sometimes as many as 200 – have been working on the transformation ever since.

"It's a combination of medical planning, logistics, engineering, and what we would recognise as tasks that need to be done like building beds, laying floors," Col Boreham said.

In a sign of the magnitude of the project, the military helped to lay four miles of copper piping for oxygen.

"The other thing is providing specialist advice in certain areas in terms of patient information, management systems, medical planning, medical logistics, the things that the NHS do really well… but we just put it into the context of when it is at scale," the colonel said.

Dozens of service personnel have helped build NHS Nightingale. Pic: MoD
Image: A team of about 60 to 65 military personnel have been working on the transformation. Pic: MoD

He said the difference between the Nightingale and field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan was that Read More – Source