Inside Nightingale Hospital: An NHS Nurse Tells Us What’s Really Been Going On

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images.
A picture shows the newly installed signage for the field hospital to be known as the NHS Nightingale Hospital being created at the ExCeL London exhibition centre in London on March 27, 2020.
"You never forget that moment you put on your gown and walk into the ward," an NHS Nightingale nurse tells me. "You think, Holy crap, I could die from this. I was definitely scared. It really hits you."
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The double exhibition halls at the ExCeL were transformed with the framework for about 80 wards, each with 42 beds. When the hospital opened, there were some 500 beds available, fully equipped with oxygen and ventilators, with space for another 3,500. But since opening on 3rd April, concerns have been raised over staff shortages and lack of admitted patients.
Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images.
Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre which is being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital.
Jane*, a registered nurse who asked me not to use her real name, has been working at NHS Nightingale since 1st April and says staff were told last Friday that the hospital would go on standby when admissions decrease. However, she adds that they are expecting a second wave of patients. "When Boris releases the lockdown, we will see a massive increase of second wave infections," she tells me. "I know the economy needs to improve, but it's too early. I can't imagine getting 1,000 deaths a day again for a period of time. It shouldn't happen."
Jane, who is in her 30s, worked at a London NHS Trust before she received her letter asking her to volunteer at the NHS Nightingale at the end of March. "The first week we had training and the next we were treating COVID-19 patients." It wasn't easy. She describes the scene at the 87,328-square-metre makeshift hospital and says it wasn't suitable to take on intensive care patients. "It's a field hospital with ITU nurses overseeing 4-6 patients. There are no windows. Once you're in, it's like a barn. When you're on a ward, you have no idea what the time is. Patients have no idea what is going on."
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There are no windows. Once you're in, it's like a barn. When you're on a ward, you have no idea what the time is. Patients have no idea what is going on.

Jane*
She does say that they were well stocked with PPE at NHS Nightingale although she was uncomfortable during her 13-hour shift. "You'll be wearing these full-length gowns, hair net, visor, and the masks are suffocating. It's horrible. When you're on a ward, it is incredibly hot and sweaty." However she says she has been very lucky, as other healthcare workers across the country have been unable to access PPE.
Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images.
A hospital bed and respirator at the ExCel centre which is being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital.
Jane says that over her time at NHS Nightingale, just 54 patients have been admitted. Most of them were male, overweight and from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background. "A lot of them were key workers, Uber drivers, teachers and receptionists who were more exposed to the virus." Not everyone recovered.
Last week, sources told the BBC that London's NHS Nightingale treated 51 patients in the first three weeks, 13 of whom died at the hospital. The NHS would not confirm those figures and an NHS spokesperson said it would be a "mark of success" if the hospital "continues not to operate at full capacity".
Jane says: "I'm very much used to looking after patients, seeing them recover in normal hospitals and watching them go home." But with patients dying regularly, she admits it's been "very emotional".

In the patient's last moments, we would read out a note from their family member.

Jane*
She says staff at NHS Nightingale allowed one visitor to access the ward if their family member was dying. "In the patient's last moments, we would read out a note from their family member. It was absolutely heartbreaking."
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Jane believes that the mental repercussions of the pandemic will see a lot of nurses leave the profession altogether. "There's going to be huge amounts of people suffering from PTSD and depression. Lots of people will leave nursing because they've been pushed to the bone."
Despite the challenges, Jane commends the hard work of the NHS and echoes the praises of the government, describing the last six weeks as nothing short of phenomenal. "Massive amounts of teamwork went into this. Your team become your friends and family, especially at a time when so many can't visit their own. What we created at NHS Nightingale is phenomenal. We are proud of it."
And what does she make of the nation clapping for the NHS every week? "We've really felt the love and the amount of support. Bring on the claps, pots and pans."

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