Client Story

NHS Seacole

Creating a COVID-19 rehab centre from scratch

Our healthcare, public services, and people experts had experience of helping hospitals run efficiently – from using data to cut surgery waiting times at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to improving COVID-19 patient care by matching doctors to hospitals in New York. We’re also supporting the UK Government to build seven new hospitals as part of the health infrastructure plan (HIP). From developing the business case and investment plans to providing the hands-on operational expertise, our broad range of capabilities ensures we can move at pace. Now we had to apply our experience to a very different challenge: creating a new kind of facility in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

Working closely with the UK National Health Service (NHS), our team were at the heart of creating the NHS Seacole Centre for COVID-19 rehabilitation in just 35 days. It’s meant everything from co-ordinating building work and local volunteers to recruiting well-trained staff and getting hold of medical equipment. Together we also set out how the Centre would operate, so everyone from doctors to porters knew what to do, and how. By mobilising quickly and adapting as the pandemic unfolded, we’ve created a place that helps patients recover fully from the effects of the illness, and frees capacity in local hospitals to deal with new COVID-19 cases.

Key successes

  • Recruited a range of staff for the Centre, from nurses and therapists to healthcare assistants and office workers, for 90 whole-time-equivalent (WTE) posts
  • Co-ordinated hundreds of people from more than 20 organisations, including volunteers to get the new rehabilitation centre up and running
  • Opened on time on May 4, 2020, 35 days after work commenced, with the first patients received on May 31
  • Award winning project at the HSJ Partnership Awards in the Built Environment of the Year category

Facing up to a five-week deadline

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, the NHS knew hospitals would come under extreme pressure. In March 2020, the UK Government announced that NHS hospitals needed to expand critical care capacity to the maximum, which included freeing up 30,000 (or more) of the English NHS’s 100,000 general and acute beds. The NHS needed to act fast. They decided to create the NHS Seacole Centre, which would provide all-important ward capacity with a facility dedicated to patients recovering from effects of the illness.

But for the plan to work, the new Centre would need to be ready in only five weeks to coincide with the expected peak of the virus in May 2020. The Seacole Centre would care for 130 patients, with room for up to 300 later if needed. They’re either recovering COVID-19 patients who no longer need acute hospital care, or people with symptoms who can’t cope at home. Many are dealing with the virus’s physical aftermath including lung, heart and muscle damage that can make it hard to even turn in bed. Others are suffering the psychological effects of the illness.

The chosen site was an ex-military rehabilitation facility in Surrey, England. But the buildings had stood empty for two years and some had been flooded. The site would need a complete transformation, including new wiring and drains, restored electricity and water, and redecoration. Wards would need converting to single rooms and the Centre kitted out with fire alarms, IT and nurse-call systems. It also needed separate accommodation for staff who wanted to stay on site rather than travel long distances or risk infecting their families by going home.

Inventing a new kind of facility

We worked side by side with the Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust team – under whose jurisdiction the Centre would operate – including the Chief Executive, Medical Director, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Nursing. We also worked closely with other partner organisations including Surrey County Council, Corrigenda and Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership. Together we engaged closely with over 15 clinical and support service leads partners to create a comprehensive hospital operations manual. It defined scores of processes, from referring and admitting patients to transferring and discharging them and everything in between, whether it was what meals they got, how post came and went from the Centre or how medical check-ups, cleaning and portering happened. We also managed 50 local volunteers who helped assemble 300 pieces of furniture and ferry supplies around the 83-acre site.

We worked with Epsom & St Helier’s HR department, plus NHS partner organisations to agree workforce loans. And we filled nursing and therapist posts with retired, student and trainee practitioners, as well as staff new to the NHS. We also needed healthcare assistants to feed and dress patients, help them get about and keep them company. To find them, we looked in industries like air travel, where crews had first aid experience and, because of the pandemic, weren’t currently working.

Collaboration was vital when it came to procuring equipment, with suppliers facing more demand just when their own supply chains were disrupted. To avoid being left short of the essentials needed to open on time, we used our partners’ networks to borrow items like portable x-ray machines and beds able to accommodate patients at different stages of recovery.

From start to finish, we kept everyone focused on the critical things needed to open the Centre safely and on time. And we made sure they carried on talking to each other, so they could anticipate obstacles as much as possible.

Opening on time

Working in close collaboration with Epsom & St Helier NHS Trust, we hit the opening deadline of May 4, 2020. Health Secretary Matt Hancock joined the Trust’s Chief Executive, Daniel Elkeles, in hosting a virtual ceremony. Patients began arriving shortly afterwards. Now that Seacole is up and running, nearby hospitals can release COVID-19 patients earlier to start what can be a long road to full recovery. It means patients are in a more pleasant environment that aids their recovery, while other hospitals have extra capacity for new COVID-19 cases.

The ability of the PA team to turn their hand to anything and everything that was needed, from writing the operating manual for the new hospital, to scenario testing all the clinical processes to even unpacking furniture, was invaluable in enabling us to deliver this project on time. It certainly made my job much easier!”
NHS Seacole, Headley Court
The PA team were the glue between a lot of different organisations – their expertise in programme management of healthcare projects plus their ability to bring a diverse group of stakeholders together was critical to the project’s success. We absolutely could not have delivered at the pace we did without them.”
Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
It usually takes years to plan, design and build a hospital. We had five weeks. That made us very single-minded about focusing on the things that were going to stop us opening on time and dealing with those.”
Economics expert at PA

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