Great Britain

Gulf war hero who’s helping to build NHS Nightingale brands coronavirus ‘the enemy you can’t see’

 A GULF War hero who has joined the NHS frontline in the war on the coronavirus has dubbed the killer bug “an enemy you can’t see”.

Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is leading the construction of the first NHS Nightingale unit — a huge temporary hospital in East London.

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His team of soldiers are turning the ExCel convention centre into a 4,000-bed Covid-19 treatment facility, which will be the UK’s biggest — and larger than any regular hospital.

And Col Boreham, who has served the Army since 1992, is confident of winning the fight against the virus.

He said: “It’s the biggest job I’ve ever done. But you know what? I’ve spent 27 years on a journey to this moment. This enemy is different to what we’re used to dealing with. This is a threat you can’t see.

“Yes it’s a big job, without a doubt. But it’s achievable.

“I’ve got the experience. I’m the right person at the right time for this particular project.”

The 54-year-old went on: “I’m from London and most of the people here are from London. We are doing this to save the lives of Londoners. They are our comrades.

“This is a very personal mission for everyone here. It can’t be anything else. You are saving people’s lives and they could be the lives of your families.

“It focuses the mind, and that is why everyone is pulling together. We are absolutely united as one.”

East London’s vast ExCel Centre usually hosts conventions, events and parties, but will soon be home to up to 4,000 coronavirus patients, looked after by 16,000 staff.

Five hundred beds are expected to be available for use this week, just days after construction started.

The Nightingale unit will dwarf all other hospitals in the UK, where the largest is currently St George’s in Tooting, South London, with around 1,300 beds.

Dad-of-two Col Boreham is normally commanding officer of the London-based 256 Field Hospital, where medical troops are trained. He was due to retire this month but stayed on to help manage the new hospital.

His grandfather John Smith served in World War One and saw action at the Battle of the Somme.

Col Boreham added: “This is no different. I’m just at a different battle.” His team, including Royal Engineers, helped design the unit when planning started just ten days ago.

They will also help run it with NHS London — and Col Boreham heaped praise on his medical colleagues.

He said: “We drew a plan up over a brew and then started to create the product. It’s a combination of planning, logistics and engineering, plus general tasks like building beds, laying floors.

“The other thing is providing specialist advice in terms of patient information, management systems, medical planning, medical logistics.

“The NHS does these things really well, but we just put it into the context of scale and help with working in a different kind of system. This is a challenging environment. It’s no different to what we do on operations.

“The difference between this and a war zone is the scale. We usually build small trauma hospitals that are multi-discipline. This is built to a much simpler plan so it supports a particular patient group.

“The medical operating model is really, really clever. It is designed to maximise benefit, to save lives and improve outcomes.

“I can’t emphasise the leadership skills of some of the NHS people here. They are amazing. It is a fantastic facility.”

Lieutenant Stu Taylor, 26, is working with a 30-strong construction force from 36 Engineer Regiment to prepare cubicles where patients will be treated.

Lt Taylor, from Surrey, said: “My job is to lead this eclectic and varied bunch of skills my soldiers have. Although the challenges might be different to things I’ve done, it’s very transferable. It is incredibly impressive the work that has been done here. We are proud to have played our part.”

Lt Michael Andrews, 24, from Berkhamsted, Herts, is a platoon commander with the Royal Anglian Regiment — known as The Vikings.

He said: “We’ve been laying vinyl flooring in the bays, assisting with the build of beds and mattresses and other low-level tasks which frees up specialist trades.” He added: “Two weeks ago, I was in Sierra Leone and now we are helping with the pandemic.

“We are the military, we will go where required.”

Dad-of-two Sgt Mark Anderson, 32, also with The Vikings, added: “I don’t think anyone has seen something of this scale done before. It is an invisible enemy and we all need to work together to combat the outbreak.”

NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens praises the efforts of doctors, nurses and COVID-19 volunteers as he opens NHS Nightingale

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