New Queen Elizabeth Unit at the Royal London Hospital - Wates

11 April 2022

Last week, I had the honour of representing Wates at the opening of the new Queen Elizabeth Unit at the Royal London Hospital alongside Her Majesty the Queen. Opening any project that Wates Group has worked on is fulfilling, but this one struck a chord more than usual.

Paul Chandler – Executive Managing Director, Wates Construction Group

Boosting the response to COVID-19

We delivered the 176-bed intensive care unit in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, transforming the 14th and 15th floors of the hospital, which had been dormant for eight years, into dedicated COVID-19 wards. Being able to play a small part in boosting the UK’s response to the pandemic, is up there as one of the proudest moments of my and our brilliant Wates team’s careers. And I’m sure I speak for everyone involved when I say that.

The project was completed ahead of schedule in five weeks, with patients being treated on the wards 13 days ahead of the agreed completion date. This would be an achievement in any circumstance but was even more so in the context of the pandemic, ever-changing requirements, and the need to establish new protocols to safeguard our people and our operations. It was our expertise beyond health that enabled us to bring a fresh perspective, drawing on pioneering modern methods of construction, to minimise resources required on site and to address the challenge of delivering a complex project in a live operational and constrained environment at speed.

Expanding our healthcare offer

Although we have worked on various projects in healthcare, including construction and fit-out solutions for laboratories and research, primary care, and mental health facilities, this was the first time we have delivered a facility at this scale and complexity. It allowed us to demonstrate what we can accomplish when we transfer our knowledge and expertise from other sectors, be that education or retail, and has laid the groundwork for future work in the healthcare sector.

Last year, we announced the appointment of a new senior team focused on expanding Wates’ work in healthcare and, in October, we launched the Decarbonising Health Estates Partnership (DHEP) alongside Arup and HKS Architects. The NHS is the most significant public sector contributor to climate change in the UK, representing more than 5% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 11 coal-fired power stations. Through this partnership we will support NHS Trusts in developing and implementing their decarbonisation strategies, focusing on existing estates, which alongside their supporting facilities services make up 15% of the NHS’ total carbon emissions profile.

National scale

Most recently, Wates was appointed to all lots of the ProCure23 procurement framework for the design and construction of NHS capital projects, aiming to drive innovation and sustainability within the NHS. For me, securing such a strong position on the framework – including two national lots for healthcare facilities between £20 million and £70 million and over £70 million – shows just how far we have come in a couple of years.

When we opened the Queen Elizabeth Unit last week, it was an important reminder of what we can achieve when we challenge ourselves, stepping outside our comfort zone and drawing on expertise from across our business, to develop more innovative, flexible and creative approaches to meet our customers’ needs.

The Queen marks the opening of the Royal London's Queen Elizabeth Unit