UK Health Minister Matt Hancock confirmed at a press conference, 24 March, that ExCeL London is to be turned into a special temporary hospital able to host 4,000 Covid-19 patients.

The facility will be ready for use from next week, with an initial 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen. It will be called the NHS Nightingale hospital, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.

ExCeL London is the largest conference and exhibition centre in London. The Minister said there would be two wards of 2,000 capacity each and added that a further 18,000 medical students and 11,500 retired medics would join the NHS in the fight against Covid-19.

Jeremy Rees, CEO, ExCeL London said: “Our country is facing the largest national emergency for a generation and our thoughts and sympathies are with those who are personally affected by this situation. It is crucial that everyone plays their part in the national effort, working with the government to combat the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.

“We are proud to be able to accommodate the increasing demand for hospital beds and will work with the NHS to facilitate this request. The team at ExCeL London will ensure that we work with the government and relevant authorities to support their efforts in seeing the British people and the UK through this unprecedented crisis.”

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Under these exceptionally challenging circumstances the NHS is taking extraordinary steps to fight the coronavirus. That’s why NHS clinicians and managers are working with military planners and engineers to create, equip, staff and open the NHS Nightingale London, and we’re very grateful for their support.

“This will be a model of care never needed or seen before in this country, but our specialist doctors are in touch with their counterparts internationally who are also opening facilities like this, in response to the shared global pandemic.

“Despite these amazing measures, the fact is no health service in the world will cope if coronavirus lets rip, which is why NHS staff are pleading with the public to follow medical advice – stay at home, stop the virus spreading, and save lives.”

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “This is the single biggest health challenge our country has faced in generations, and we need everyone to follow the guidance set out by government about how to stay safe and practise good hygiene.

“Nurses, midwives and care staff across the NHS and social care always step up to the plate, and I’m thrilled but unsurprised that some of my retired colleagues are ready to re-join the NHS at this crucial time for our country, which is seeing the NHS ramp up the number of beds, services and facilities to help people to manage over the coming weeks and months.”