Prince William praised NHS staff for their “herculean efforts” before opening a field hospital via videolink in Birmingham.
The Duke of Cambridge spoke of the “selfless commitment” of NHS workers as he declared the NHS Nightingale hospital, set up in the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in the midlands, officially open.
It was set up in under two weeks, to deal with more coronavirus patients and has an initial capacity of 500 beds. This can be increased to 1,500 beds.
Before giving a speech to staff, he spoke to some of the team, checking in with them and asking after their families.
He said: “I can’t congratulate and thank all of you enough for all of your hard work in putting this together. It’s a herculean effort and you should be, rightly, very proud of what you’ve achieved.”
Professor Jamie Coleman, an associate director of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said afterwards: “We were able to tell him about the overwhelming support that we have had, anything from supermarkets to Nestle Easter eggs. He warned about our waistlines!
“He was very interested in family life, and how this was affecting us all. It is very easy for us in a way, because we have had a real focus, even if it has been working incredibly long hours.
“We have been able to get out of our houses, we have had something to distract our minds from the social isolation others are feeling. He was touched by the personal stories of support and generosity of the public at this quite difficult time in everybody’s life.
“My neighbour has been mowing my lawn, very kindly. He suggested that I went and had a look and made sure that they hadn’t mowed their own initials into my back garden!”
Later, in a speech to staff, who were standing two metres apart in the hall, William said: “Let me start by reiterating all that has been said so far and paying tribute to the incredible work that NHS staff across the country have been doing to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
“Their selfless commitment has touched the hearts of the entire nation.”
He added: “The building you are standing in is yet another example of how people across the country have risen to this unprecedented challenge.
“The Nightingale hospitals will rightly go down as landmarks in the history of the NHS.
“The NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham is a wonderful example of Britain pulling together.
“Having spoken to some of the people who helped build it, hospitals are about the people and not the bricks.
“NHS staff, armed forces, local government, and the private sector have collectively stepped up to turn this exhibition centre into a hospital.”
He said the team deserved thanks and should be proud of what they had done.
The duke, who is in Anmer Hall with his family during lockdown, said: “I know that the Nightingale Birmingham will provide invaluable resources for hospitals from miles and miles around.
“This will reassure people across the Midlands that if their local hospitals reach capacity, there will be extra beds available for their loved ones here.
“I find that very comforting and I know many other people will too.
"It’s a herculean effort, and you should be very proud of what you’ve achieved." — The Duke of Cambridge spoke with some of the incredible staff that built NHS @NightingaleBham, ahead of today's official opening 🏥 pic.twitter.com/Occ4pzLgco
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) April 16, 2020
“I want to thank you all so much for what you are doing to ensure we give the best possible care to those affected at this most challenging of times.
“Finally, I am delighted to declare the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham officially open.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock also spoke over video link during the opening.
The midlands has become the second place in the UK to see high numbers of coronavirus patients, after London.
NHS Nightingale Birmingham has been a total team effort, with our partners and their employees coming together and working hard to make it possible. Thank you! pic.twitter.com/o7Kmnq0R6W
— NHS Nightingale Birmingham (@NightingaleBham) April 13, 2020
West Midlands Police confirmed the mast which provides connectivity to the Birmingham field hospital was one of those targeted in arson attacks over the Easter weekend.
The attacks come as a conspiracy theory linking 5G to the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.
Prince Charles opened NHS Nightingale in London via videolink nearly two weeks ago, soon after he himself had recovered from coronavirus.
The prince was in his home in Scotland when he opened the east London field hospital, so was carrying out the engagement as the Duke of Rothesay.
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Another person on the call with William was Helen Gyves, lead nurse for clinical environment. She said: “It was lovely, he took quite a decent amount of time to chat to us all, had something really nice to say, asked us all about our families, which is quite emotional, I suppose – that we’re all here and we feel like everything’s revolving around here and our families are all at home, isolated.
“He asked us what we’d learned from it all, how we felt it had all gone, what messages we had and I think Jamie Coleman said a very good statement: that this is about the people in the building, not the bricks and mortar.
“So let’s get past how it looks, let’s just get on and look after the patients as best we can, like we would anywhere.”
The midlands facility will be run by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust (UHB), taking patients convalescing from coronavirus, freeing up the main hospitals to care for the most critically ill.