The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, as the world struggles to prevent the loss of life, support health services and stabilise economies. In the UK, an inevitable rise of confirmed cases has led to huge numbers being admitted to hospitals, putting unfathomable pressure on our overburdened NHS. It has been truly humbling to witness the lengths our incredible frontline workers have gone to during these difficult times, with their selfless acts rightly commended nationally by the tens of millions of people who are grateful for their tireless contributions.
With uncertainty and fear rife, there has arguably never been a greater potential for division. Instead, the tremendous unity shown by society has been a great comfort to many and already been widely cited as a key component of the UK’s recovery effort.
In response, the government and health authorities have moved quickly to convert large, dormant facilities into temporary field hospitals. This forward-thinking action has been crucial in easing the pressure on existing hospitals and helping healthcare bodies cope with high numbers of infected patients. The influence of construction workers and facilities managers during this process should also not be forgotten, with their determination throughout having a significant impact in ensuring these temporary field hospitals were fit for purpose.
Swansea Council has worked with infrastructural contractors to transform a former factory and film studio into a temporary field hospital, paving the way for more than 1,300 beds once the two-phase project is completed. While the outer shell of the building remains, the council has overseen the installation of new flooring, ceilings, electricity and, eventually, medical equipment.
As part of the fit-out, Andrews Sykes was entrusted with providing both cooling and heating solutions. Multi-seasonal climate control was expressly required due to expectations that the hospital will be operational for the medium to long-term. With time very much of the essence, the team responsible for commissioning the changeover were desperate for us to deliver kit at the earliest opportunity.
Our longstanding relationship with the healthcare industry underpinned our appreciation of the stress key decision makers are usually under, which has further intensified since the upsurge in Coronavirus cases. With the customer’s convenience our primary consideration, we were very happy to alleviate logistical worries and provide the necessary equipment outside of normal working hours. Our engineers were on site during the weekend to oversee the installation of four 500kW boilers, two 500kW chillers and two 375kW chillers. The equipment was connected to the building’s low loss header which drives air handlers throughout the entire hospital, providing the desired heating and cooling capacities.
Elsewhere in Wales, there have been other extraordinary examples of professionals from various industries working together around the clock to ensure additional bed space is available almost immediately. The speed with which those working on these critical projects have carried out their tasks has been remarkable, with Deeside Leisure Centre and Bangor University each hosting 250 beds for the Cadwaladr University Health Board.
With the healthcare sector the number one priority of Andrews Sykes during this demanding period, it was with great pleasure that we could assist these two adapted applications by providing a source of heating and domestic hot water. Two 500kW boilers were installed on the Deeside site, where a fully functional ward operates in the place of an ice rink and indoor skate park. The Bangor temporary field hospital needed two 300kW boilers to be connected to newly installed pipework inside their sports facilities.
The Trust also communicated their anxiety regarding the ramifications of a hypothetical power outage once the hospital was up and running. Our technical expert was understandably keen to pacify what was a very valid concern, as ventilators and other lifesaving equipment would be unable to function if the electricity supply was lost. We therefore provided the client with two back-up generators which were commissioned to activate instantly in the event of a shortage on site.
Throughout this crisis, much of the focus has justifiably been on monitoring the health and welfare of those who have been unfortunate enough to contract the virus. There has also been a newfound appreciation of the ordinarily thankless duties carried out by tens of thousands of NHS staff every single day. Cleaners, porters, administrative staff, practitioners, pharmacists, nurses and many others have altruistically risked their own wellbeing to protect the interests of others. The courage of these people has been uplifting for so many of us, and it is quite correct that their safety, too, should be constantly guaranteed.
Those responsible for opening Manchester’s temporary field hospital acted quickly to ensure members of staff had adequate showering facilities within the highly publicised G-MEX convention complex. The striking site has seen the former Manchester Central railway station and exhibition centre be converted into a fully fledged medical facility that is already open and treating patients.
Prior to this development, it was emphasised that people working inside the facility should be provided with a safe environment to wash – an extremely understated requirement since the essential introduction of personal protective equipment (PPE) on COVID wards. This provision was something that we had the knowledge and resources to help with, prompting us to supply a 500kW boiler to run domestic hot water for a 60-shower block.
It was also important to consider the potential for those using the amenities to suffer thermal shock due to the difference between the water temperature and ambient air temperature of the enclosed area. Thermal shocks are scientifically proven to weaken the immune system and reduce the body’s ability to stave off infection. This would have been a disastrous and highly dangerous situation for anyone exposed to such conditions, necessitating the use of an Aurora FH 2000 indirect fired heater to continuously maintain a warm internal temperature.
Treating a greatly augmented number of patients during an epidemic is a colossal mission in its own right, which is why lessening the impact of other unsettling influences is paramount. Many of us have read the harrowing accounts of nurses who have struggled to do their job due to the mandatory need to wear PPE. Stress, sweatiness, heat exhaustion, blotches and fatigue are all frequently reported side-effects that, when combined, make it unimaginably difficult to carry out daily tasks.
One hospital contacted us on Good Friday in the hope that we could provide some cooling relief to staff working on a COVID-contaminated ward. A regional expert arrived on site almost immediately to ascertain the size of the areas the estates team intended to address, pre-empting the creation of specific zones which staff could visit to cool down. This was handled with a great deal of urgency and the delivery of multiple Polar Wind portable air conditioning units followed later that same afternoon.
A week earlier, we received a similar enquiry from a South East London Hospital that was once again related to the effect PPE was having on members of staff. Our London specialist received a call on Sunday lunchtime after the NHS Trust explained that pathologists conducting post-mortems were uncomfortably warm inside the examination room. With our close links to the healthcare industry and a fervent commitment to assisting whenever called upon, we responded swiftly to ease the strain on medical professionals overseeing heart-rending but essential work during their gruelling schedule. Three PAC 22 air conditioning units were delivered less than three hours after the initial discussions.
Despite the natural insecurity and despair manifested by ‘the worst public health crisis for a generation’, there have been countless good news stories and positivity, too. The weekly ‘Clap for Carers’ tributes have encapsulated the nation’s pride of those battling the virus, while the tales of remarkable recoveries have conjured joy and hope in equal measure.
Regrettably, however, the spreading of an infectious disease has unfortunately led to some losing loved ones in tragically unavoidable cases. As hospitals toil endlessly to accommodate new patients, the gut-wrenching reality is that they must also house increasing numbers of those sadly taken by the virus. In these circumstances, the need to treat and store each body in a dignified and empathic manner could not be clearer.
A spike in deaths in recent weeks has led to mortuaries across the country being at full capacity, creating emergency requirements for additional space. The preservation of bodies is reliant upon the availability of a suitable application and a source of refrigeration, which is something we were able to offer to ensure each person was treated with as much humanity and respect as possible.
We provided several hospitals with modular structures that included FC90 chiller units to help maintain temperatures at a level conducive to compassionate, safe storage. Other hospitals converted vacant rooms into temporary storage facilities themselves and requested that we supply the same Fast Chill units to help instil the desired conditions.
While there is comprehensible scope for people to have a gloomy outlook on the situation, we prefer to look on in awe at the way in which our health services continue to tackle the issue. Our key workers have gone above and beyond expectations to keep as many people as possible safe and we owe them our gratitude, thanks and respect on an incalculable scale.
Andrews Sykes is proud to have been able to work alongside the NHS and healthcare trusts during the grip of the Coronavirus and remains dedicated to providing whichever resources they may require to help our resilient health workers do their job.