In December 2019 we started to hear about a new virus that was spreading across China. We didn’t know or suspect that this would trigger a global pandemic that would rock mankind. By March 2020 the UK was in lockdown as we tried to understand and contain the virus. UWE, Bristol, like many organisations, needed to adapt fast to continue to be able to conduct its core business of teaching, research and enterprise. We had to innovate and create new approaches overnight. But there is one innovation that stands out as truly remarkable. An innovation that I am proud to say made a significant contribution to our city, our region and the nation. It was to build a Nightingale Field Hospital on the University Campus utilising a 4000sqm exhibition centre and enterprise building creating in total a facility of some 8000sqm.
On the 27th March I attended a meeting on campus with colleagues from the NHS, army logistics, architects, designers and building contractors. Over the next two hours we agreed the site was viable and the preferred option to support the region. I made the decision there and then to handover the facility and we pulled together a team to help support the build of a life-time. The challenge was simple – build a fully operational hospital capable of supporting 301 fully ventilated patients in an intensive care environment with medical gases and suction to every bedhead and treatment bay. In addition to create a hospital that was to be completely paperless – digital by design – with all records and vital signs and diagnostic assessments being captured in real time digital environments with visual recording and alerts. We even looked to incorporate robotics and artificial intelligence into our operation.
The innovations to achieve this were mind blowing. Leadership teams crossing disciplines, organisations and expertise worked over a 4-week period to solve problems and create hope for the future. Hope for patients, hope for the NHS and hope for the nation as we saw the impact of Covid-19 unfold daily. The level of innovation and enterprise to solve, what seemed like an impossible challenge was amazing. I worked with teams who focused on the clinical, technical and engineering issues, deconstructing problems to a size that could be manged. We empowered and trusted teams to solve the challenges and every-day we hit setbacks, but found a way through and carried on. The physical transformation of the facility was remarkable but so was the work we did creating the clinical workforce and working protocols.
The innovation across the NHS was spectacular with new protocols and collaboration being conceived, agreed and implemented across the South West. As University we innovated across a number of fields producing CADCAM face-shields, antiseptic sprays, misting systems and hand gels – distributing them to hospitals, community clinics and care homes. We created a new training programme and trained over 500 volunteers to be able to support the Nightingale and we also trained clinicians on how to treat Covid-19 patients as we started to learn more about the science andclinical treatments available.
The future and legacy of the Nightingale Field Hospital is as innovative and as ambitious as the creation of the facility. By collaborating, innovating and drawing on the expertise of our university and region the National Centre of Health and Care Innovation, Education and Practice is under development. Providing a lasting and embedded health facility for the people of our community and region we live in.