Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building


Covid hospitals: Building big in Birmingham

2 June 2020

The NHS Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham was delivered inside the NEC exhibition centre in less than two weeks by Interserve Construction

The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham was selected as venue for the second city’s coronavirus hospital. Interserve Construction, which has its head office less than a mile from the exhibition centre.

The Birmingham Nightingale Hospital required the delivery of 496 beds, divided into four wards across different halls of the NEC, in less than two weeks. An unprecedented challenge for Interserve Construction project manager Dan Harmer and his team.

“On 28 March, I got the call from my senior management team to attend a meeting at our head office to meet with our project director, Vince Kesterton, to discuss plans for the creation of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham.” Consultants including BDP and Hoare Lea, along with the Army and NHS, met with Harmer’s team at Interserve’s headquarters, Ingenuity House near the NEC, to discuss transforming the exhibition halls into a functional hospital to support the NHS during the coronavirus crisis.

Dan Harman, Interserve Construction project manager
Dan Harmer, Interserve Construction project manager at the NEC

“Our job was to take the blueprint of the nearly complete London Excel Nightingale and enhance it from a field hospital to more of a clinical facility. I still cannot put into words the gravity of the task and how mind boggling it felt at that time. The scale, pace and complexity really started to hit home.

“Yet, in less than 36 hours, Interserve Construction, Interserve Engineering Services, our supply chain and other partners had started to receive materials on site from our network of suppliers.  We already had hundreds of subcontractors working round the clock to achieve the unthinkable.”

Nightingale Birmingham in numbers

  • 90,000 hours worked by 450+ employees and contractors
  • 64 miles of cable laid
  • 10 miles of medical grade copper piping
  • 11.5 football pitches of vinyl flooring
  • 3000 sq m of dry lining for ancillary rooms
  • 2900+ electrical circuits

Working closely with the NHS, Army and NEC staff, Harmer and the Interserve project team started to install 10 miles of medi-grade copper piping for medical gas and the equivalent of 11.5 football pitches worth of vinyl.

“An added challenge was the changing scope and NHS’s requirement as they identified their needs, but I was overwhelmed by the good nature and determination to help from across the construction sector. It’s a testament to our industry how we adapted and came together, in what felt at the time, like a sense of national service, to do our bit.

It’s a testament to our industry how we adapted and came together, in what felt at the time, like a sense of national service, to do our bit.

Dan Harmer, Interserve Construction

“The pace of work was remarkable, but more so was the shared common goal, to deliver such a crucial medical facility that would help to provide resilience for our client the University Hospital Birmingham Trust, and ensure NHS’s intensive care units wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

“It was a phenomenal effort from our own 50-plus Interserve Construction and Interserve Engineering Services employees and 400-plus sub-contractors, who created the NHS’s Nightingale Birmingham in under two weeks.”

Crucially, this was all achieved while everyone observed the required strict social distancing rules, says Harmer.

All trades follow site operating procedures
All trades observed site operating procedures

“This challenge was met by everyone, helped along by a team of ten health and safety colleagues who acted as spotters to ensure that social distancing was observed at all times. “All those involved worked long hours – some exceeding 20 hours a day. They were apart from their families for days at a time and many sacrificed their Easter break to complete this task.

“It was inspirational to see the industry pull together with a smile on its face. I didn’t know many of the people involved at the start of this process, but now I feel like I’ve known them for years.

“Under normal circumstances, we would usually have months or even years to plan and execute a project like this. The NHS Nightingale is not the largest project I’ve worked on, but it’s arguably the most important one I have had the privilege to work on to date.

Completing the M&E installations
Completing the M&E installations

“The camaraderie on site was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I hope that all projects moving forward will take a little bit of the magic from the way we worked on the Nightingale.

“As we move through this pandemic and beyond, I am confident the construction sector will emerge in a much better shape. To all my peers – stay safe.”

The hospital became operational on 10 April 2020, the second temporary ‘Nightingale Hospital’ to be built in England, following NHS Nightingale London in the ExCeL exhibition and convention centre. It can quickly be expanded to 800 if needed, with a worst-case scenario capacity of 4,000 beds.

Project team

  • Main contractor: Interserve
  • Architect: BDP
  • M&E engineer: Hoare Lea
  • M&E contractor: Interserve Engineering Services


British engineering and ingenuity at it’s best. Well done Interserve and all involved.

Howard Winfield, 2 June 2020

Inspirational. A great well done!

Grant Gover, 3 June 2020