History

Field Hospitals: How The Crimean War Has Shaped The UK's Coronavirus Strategy

The military has assisted with the construction of temporary facilities across the UK in the fight against COVID-19.

NHS Nightingale hospitals are beginning to take their first COVID-19 patients.

With the help of military personnel, facilities have been developed across the United Kingdom. 

They are named after Florence Nightingale – a 19th century nurse considered to be a pioneer of modern nursing.

Working at the Selimiye Barracks in Scutari during the Crimean War, she was horrified at the conditions faced by British soldiers and pleaded with the government to do something about it.

The job of designing the first ever prefabricated hospital was done by Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in 1855. He did it in just six days.

The project was completed within five months – the facility was manufactured and shipped from the UK and built in Renkioi (after which it was named) in the Dardanelles.

An NHS field hospital being developed on the site of Cardiff's Principality Stadium.

It included ventilation, drainage and mechanisms to control temperature, and could be constructed as a series of units, with each housing 100 patients.

Within a few weeks, Brunel’s hospital was caring for 300 wounded, a figure that had risen to over 1,000 by the end of the year.

Nightingale and fellow volunteer nurses referred to Renkioi as "those magnificent huts".

Tim Bryan, director of the Brunel Institute at the Bristol-based SS Great Britain, said: "Although the idea of 'sanitary' hospitals had been promoted by Florence Nightingale it is not known if Brunel consulted her, but his designs incorporate much of the modern medical thinking around good sanitation and ventilation.

"To design, construct, transport, rebuild and commission an entirely new kind of hospital 1,000 miles away in only five months is no mean achievement and comparable to great work being done by engineers and NHS staff today."

Cover image: NHS Nightingale Hospital at London's ExCel Centre (Picture: PA).