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The Nightingale hospitals, built in record time, were a proud moment for the industry. But with patient numbers overwhelming the NHS, Elizabeth Hopkirk asks why they never fulfilled their original promise
On Boxing Day morning, while many of us were blearily contemplating the prospect of turkey sandwiches for lunch, paramedics were responding to the first of nearly 8,000 emergency calls they received that day in London alone.
It was a day when England and Wales recorded 34,693 new cases of covid-19 and more than 20,000 people were being treated in hospital, worse than in the April peak. The figures were alarming, but this was still only the beginning of a second wave of infections that went on to bring hospitals to their knees and frightened a reluctant government into imposing another lockdown four days later.
That same morning, down at the ExCeL exhibition and convention centre in east London, a team of contractors, architects and engineers were gathering in the vast, hangar-like building, their Christmas break brought to an abrupt halt. It was nine months almost to the day since many had first met there, wide-eyed, to try to turn the exhibition centre into the UK’s first coronavirus surge hospital. They did it in 10 days and it was rightly hailed as a magnificent achievement.
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