THE NHS Louisa Jordan, Scotland’s dedicated coronavirus hospital, is a testament to collaboration. One of the UK’s largest inpatient facilities, it has been built from scratch in just three weeks and is now ready to admit patients should that be required.

“The objective galvanised everyone involved,” says architect David Ross, director of Keppie Design. “Nobody thought ‘I don’t know how we’re going to solve that problem’. It was a case of ‘right, let’s work out how to get that done’.”

The idea to transform the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), on the north bank of the river Clyde in Glasgow, into a temporary hospital equipped to provide care for patients affected by COVID-19 came from the army.

On the morning of Friday 31 March, Gordon James, director of Health Facilities Scotland, the organisation that now oversees NHS Scotland building projects, was called to a recce meeting there.

By 3pm, he had pulled together a core design team, and by 7pm the concept was being drawn up. “That was the start of it, and we haven’t left since,” he says. “What has been achieved here in such a short time is truly astounding.”

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NHS Louisa Jordan – named after a Scottish nurse who died during the First World War – occupies the SEC’s massive exhibition halls, normally hosting large concerts and conferences. “It’s the ultimate multi-functional ‘black box’ event space, designed to be adaptable at speed,” says Ross. “I’m sure the original designers hadn’t intended this might be one of its functions, but it has taken the transformation into a temporary hospital well.”

Outside, and visible from the Clydeside Expressway, huge oxygen and gas tanks have been craned into place and mobile X-ray and CT scanner units stand ready for action. Ambulance bays have been constructed at either end of the building, and there’s an on-site ambulance station for quick turnaround.

Inside, the cavernous exhibition halls have been divided up into 1036 individual bed bays, each serviced by gantries carrying electrical and data cabling and copper piping to supply the gases necessary to treat people in respiratory failure.

Bespoke ventilators to clean the air have been installed and the existing ventilation system upgraded; a fully-equipped pharmacy has been fitted and there are sterile storage areas, cleaners’ rooms and patient bathrooms, as well as facilities for staff to both don the personal protective equipment (PPE) required to keep them safe and to doff it without risk of viral contamination.

Hall 2, the smallest of the SEC’s exhibition areas, is now a standby high dependency unit.

Corridors are strictly one-way, 1.5km of wipeable walling has been installed, and clear colour-coded signage directs staff to individual clinical areas.

READ MORE: Covid-19: Footage shows SEC transformation into NHS Louisa Jordan

“For us, patient and staff safety and infection control have been absolutely paramount. There’s no point doing this if it’s not up to the highest standards,” says Susan Grant, principal architect at Health Facilities Scotland who has designed much of the internal detail. “This is now a fully functioning hospital. Nothing like this has ever been attempted by NHS Scotland before.”

At the start of the process, during that last weekend in March, Health Facilities Scotland’s principal supply chain partners were mobilised to help with project scoping. Balfour Beatty, Robertson, Keir and Graham Construction quickly came together, and on the morning of Monday March 30, when the First Minister confirmed that the hospital was definitely going ahead, individual contractors were appointed and the build began.

“In a normal hospital build you do everything sequentially: you design something, you review it, you review it some more and it goes round several houses before we agree what’s eventually going to get built,” says Grant. “In this project we have had to do everything concurrently and at great speed, which has been possible because of lockdown. The whole supply chain has been focused entirely on this – factories have even opened up and made things for us overnight.”

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For instance, there were not enough disinfectant gel dispensers to install one in each bed bay. “One of the contractors had 11,000 of them made so we could get them fitted on time,” says Susan. “Everyone has mucked in. The co-operation has been fantastic.”

ANOTHER contractor took staff off furlough and delivered £18,000 worth of cement, which was donated to the project, while 22,500 square metres of vinyl flooring was manufactured and delivered in two days instead of the usual six weeks.

Clinical specialists and infection control experts have worked alongside architects and builders, electricians, fire specialists and engineers around the clock. At times, there have been 750 people on site, each observing the minimum two-metre distance, which they are regularly reminded of by loud tannoy announcements.

Unlike England’s Nightingale hospitals, designed as intensive care units for people from the areas in which they are based, the Louisa Jordan hospital is a national resource, available to treat patients from across Scotland should their local hospitals become overloaded. “Ours is a very different clinical model,” says Grant. “We have taken the view that coronavirus patients requiring intensive care are best dealt with in existing hospitals, and that this place is for ongoing care and rehabilitation, freeing up local capacity.

“The plan at the moment is that nobody would come here directly from the community, but instead be admitted from other hospitals – a step-sideways facility, if you like. However we are still finalising that, and refining the plan as we go and as we see how the virus is evolving.”

So far, Scotland’s existing acute hospitals are coping with their coronavirus caseloads, and at the present time there is spare capacity in intensive care beds across the country. But that may change. “We would be used if the number of Covid patients requiring hospital care started reaching a critical level,” says James. “And there is always the possibility that we might not be needed at all.”

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The Scottish Government has not yet revealed what the Louisa Jordan project has cost to build. But the consultants say they have worked at cost, and not for profit. Whatever the spend, it is clearly a contingency that brings relief to those who have feared overload of existing resources.

“Given the proliferation of the virus, everyone is potentially touched by it and everyone is concerned about it,” says James. “That has been our collective motivation. I, for one, have felt as if I have a responsibility to do it.”

Grant agrees. “Everybody involved has wanted to do it to the absolute best of their ability and capability. We all hope it’s not going to be used, but if it needs to be, it’s ready.”

At the end of last week staff were being inducted to the NHS Louisa Jordan site, deployed from health boards across the country, and also volunteers. A chief executive is in place – Jill Young, retired nurse and former CE of the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, who has returned to work in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“As well as nurses and doctors there are Allied Health Professionals, cleaners, porters, and everyone else it takes to make sure a hospital functions well,” says Grant. “We have amazing support from SEC staff and the security people. I have been humbled by the effort folk have put into getting things done.”

As the NHS Louisa Jordan nears completion, architect Ross reflects on the past three weeks: “There’s an interesting duality to all of this. We have all worked so hard and so intensively on something that we hope will never see a patient. That’s a really weird feeling.”

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