By Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor at UWE Bristol
As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold of the country, universities have radically changed how they operate to best support students and staff, and UWE Bristol is no different. But alongside all of our efforts to ensure that our students’ academic and student experience is able to continue virtually, we have also found ourselves as one of the hosts for an NHS Nightingale Hospital on our Frenchay campus.
Creating a 300-bed hospital in our Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) has been no mean feat, but when we were approached by the NHS, it was a very easy decision for us to offer everything we could to help. Along with many universities, UWE Bristol has a very long history of being embedded in its local community, and if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of community support and collaboration to tackle the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. Universities are uniquely placed to help in the current crisis, so we knew that no matter how complex the creation of this hospital would be, we were ready to get involved.
Although the prospect of having a fully operational intensive care bed hospital on our campus has been daunting at times, the reality of the construction has been remarkably smooth. I have been on the project from the outset with fantastic colleagues at all levels and disciplines playing their part in delivering this facility. Our collective effort has given hope to NHS frontline staff, and the hospital is now ready if needed to treat the sickest patients battling COVID-19.
We were first approached in late March, when a team from land surveyors CBRE, the NHS, plus the Army Logistics team, arrived onto campus to survey the ECC and surrounding area. A project team was established and after that things began to move extremely quickly, with a full project Board established two days later and increasing numbers of Kier, NHS and contractor staff arriving on site.
We collaborated with the NHS and Kier leads from the very beginning, which was essential as there was an ambitious 15 day build plan to deliver 300 fully ventilated beds in one building – one that is usually put to use for everything from student exams to events to weddings, so it has been incredible to witness how it has been turned into such a different facility.
For me, one of the most important aspects of this whole project has been ensuring that we are not simply a geographical location for the hospital but a partner in this endeavour, consistently looking for new ways to support and adapt to having this facility on campus. To that end, we provided a bespoke 2 day training programme for volunteers to be able to work safely in the Nightingale which was designed and delivered for over 350 people over the Easter break, and UWE Bristol Academic and Technical Teams also started to train clinical leads and staff in the Nightingale protocols. We have been providing 1000s of litres of disinfectant and hand gel to the site, GP, practices, pharmacies and even the local businesses such as Rolls Royce and Airbus to keep the economy moving, and now we have begun making face visors in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
For now, the hospital stands ready if required, and the NHS continue to have our full support. Following the official opening of the hospital last week, we are now working very closely with NHS colleagues across the region to determine how the facility might change and adapt as the disease progresses and clinical needs change.
The fact that we are host to such an important part of the UK’s fight against COVID-19 is a source of great pride to our staff and students. While having a hospital spring up in the space of two weeks across from my office is not something I could ever have predicted at the start of the year, everyone here has risen to the challenge with all the energy, willingness to collaborate and community spirit I’ve come to expect from our students and staff. This is us at our best, and demonstrates how we and the higher education sector can play such a vital role in the current pandemic.
This article was first published by Universities UK