Contractor reveals how competitors came together to build the coronavirus field hospital in record time
Wilson James has been appointed as the main logistics and security company for the new NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCeL centre in east London.
Using expertise from all areas of its business, the firm co-ordinated with the military and other private-sector contractors to support the creation of the field hospital, which will treat up to 4,000 intensive care patients.
Jason West, Wilson James’ head of logistics and integration for NHS Nightingale, said: “The NHS needed security and construction logistics functions to be implemented and we were ready, willing and able to respond.
“The whole really was greater than the sum of its parts and the level of co-operation and collaboration demonstrated across the board was incredible to witness.”
Wilson James was initially tasked with co-ordinating the construction logistics aspect of the operation, but was soon asked to support the NHS supply chain as well.
This meant making sure that items including drugs and medicines, medical equipment, beds and hazardous waste bags were met on delivery and then categorised, audited, inventoried, stored and delivered to where they were needed, when they were needed, and in required quantities.
This required co-ordination with both civilian colleagues and the Royal Army Medical Corps.
West said: ‘Initially, we were able to consolidate the construction materials at ExCeL. However, we were subsequently informed that the NHS would need the designated area for other purposes. We therefore relocated the construction materials to our nearby London Construction Consolidation Centre (LCCC) and replaced them with 25 lorries worth of medical equipment.
When the coronavirus pandemic is over, and it will be over at some point, the memory of what was achieved with NHS Nightingale will live on
“Working alongside 84 Medical Supply Squadron, we configured a process whereby every 30 minutes a delivery was received via separate east and west entrances and offloaded.
“Our logistics people had to adapt, learn and understand the difference between construction materials and medical product at pace and scale. They then had to identify what had arrived and what hadn’t, categorise construction materials accordingly, and send them to the LCCC.”
To further streamline the process, drive efficiency, and meet ongoing demand; a 20,000sq ft marquee was erected to hold two hours’ worth of stock that could be replenished on an ongoing basis.
Fully lit and designed to house medical consumables in a dry and safe environment; it also allowed operatives to build items such as flat-packed beds on site, which could then be delivered along ExCeL’s central thoroughfare. This meant logistical delays were avoided and everyone knew what items were on-site and that they were securely located.
Many of the coronavirus patients being admitted to the hospital will have respiratory symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties. So hundreds of beds have been fitted with oxygen and ventilators and this equipment relies on a purpose-built on-site oxygen ring main. To create this, liquid oxygen tanks and other compressor equipment had to be transported from all over the country and Wilson James was responsible for their safe dispatch and arrival.
At the same time as the team was developing and implementing this complex logistics strategy, on the evening of 29 March it was also presented with the challenge of creating and operating a temporary off-site car park. Initially this was to accommodate 1,000 cars, but has now been extended to 2,000.
West said: “When we were asked to do this our first response was ‘where are we going to put it?’ We then identified a suitable piece of land adjacent to ExCeL that would be suitable, and contacted the developer, Lendlease, which informed us that it was actually owned by the Greater London Authority (GLA).
“After many phone calls, by 11pm that night we received authorisation from the GLA to go ahead. We then contacted Keltbray, which, along with Lendlease and members of the Royal Engineers, arrived on-site at 7am the next day to begin work on turning it into a car park, while we made sure items including construction materials, cones, welfare facilities for staff, lighting and barriers were available. It was simply awesome to be able to do this.”
The contract included making sure items such as drugs and medicines, medical equipment, beds and hazardous waste bags were met on delivery and then categorised, audited, inventoried, stored and delivered to where they were needed
Managing the security of a dynamic and complex site requires a high level of strategic implementation.
And, by drawing on its experience with projects such as the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Wilson James was able to configure a workable and effective system that kept people and assets safe, as well as a ‘chain of custody’ to protect equipment.
At the same it made sure that workers were able to access the areas they needed to be in without hindrance or delay.
This project just shows how the various elements of the construction sector can come together as one, from design to mechanical and electrical, when there’s such an important goal to achieve
Security across the site was divided between Wilson James, which focused on internal and secure logistics, and G4S, which took care of the perimeter. Normally business rivals, the co-operation and mutual support shown by the two organisations illustrated the collaborative spirit evident throughout this project.
For Lee Evans, Wilson James’ security lead for NHS Nightingale, this was one of the most-striking aspects of the experience. He said: “All over the site boundaries were broken between competitors and it takes something very special to make that happen.
“This was a tough project with long anti-social hours and little preparation or planning time. Despite that, it has been very rewarding and there were no serious injuries, incidents or accidents.
“For me, personally, configuring the security for NHS Nightingale’s opening ceremony, along with our security partners and the Metropolitan Police, was particularly special.”
Keith Winterflood, Wilson James’ director of operations at NHS Nightingale, concludes: “This project just shows how the various elements of the construction sector can come together as one, from design to mechanical and electrical (M&E), when there’s such an important goal to achieve.
All over the site boundaries were broken between competitors and it takes something very special to make that happen
“Everyone has dealt with the immense pressure in a positive way, employing a heads down and ‘let’s go for it’ attitude.
“We’ve all been pushed to the extreme, but when the coronavirus pandemic is over, and it will be over at some point, the memory of what was achieved with NHS Nightingale will live on.”