"We deliver the essential services to allow NHS staff to save lives" - #WeAreCIBSE

Adrian Cairns CEng MCIBSE is a Building Services Director at BAM Construct UK. He recently worked as the Building Services Lead Engineer on the Nightingale Hospital for the Yorkshire and the Humber, helping to turn the Harrogate Convention Centre into a 500-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients in just twelve days.

As part of the #WeAreCIBSE campaign, celebrating the hard-work and commitment in the building services community, we hear about Adrian’s experience working on this life-saving project.

I am a Building Services Director at BAM Construct UK, working in the North East region and based in Leeds. I lead our in-house M&E delivery team for BAM Services Engineering. In this region we are a team of 45 M&E Engineers, Managers and BIM modelling staff. As a BAM Director, I also form part of the regional senior management team and get involved in all aspects of the construction process from project inception to tendering, procurement, design, installation, commissioning, handover and aftercare. For me, the integration of the M&E Services into all the construction phases is a key component of successful projects.

I started my career working as a Commissioning Engineer between terms whilst studying for a Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Sussex back in 1989. After completing my degree, I joined Kyle Stewart (subsequently taken over by HBG then BAM) as an Assistant Building Services Manager and worked my way through the ranks to my current position.

How did you become involved in working on the Nightingale Hospital for Yorkshire and the Humber?

BAM has done a lot of work in the Health Care sector through the P22 framework and had recently completed a very complex MRI scanner installation at Leeds General Infirmary. The local NHS Estates team contacted Bam. As a result, myself and a construction colleague were asked to meet with senior NHS staff and a team from the British Army Royal Engineers to undertake some feasibility studies at various sites in Yorkshire including the Leeds First Direct Arena (Wednesday 25 March). Feasibility considerations included the building condition, what M&E services were available, what services would need to be brought in, how the spaces could be used to maximise bed capacity as well as the clinical requirements. Additionally, the NHS team were keen to ensure connectivity to existing hospitals, staff capacity, accommodation, and ambulance routes.

From those initial assessments it was concluded that the Harrogate Convention Centre (HCC) would be most suitable to convert into the Nightingale Hospital; the construction process commenced on Friday 27 March.

What services needed to be designed / installed to the Nightingale Hospital?

Every service that is required to create a fully functioning Intensive Care Unit (ICU) had to be considered and installed; the scale of the requirement was daunting since every one of the 500 bed spaces had to be designed to a Level 3 capability. We had an excellent NHS Engineering team who were based on site and were instrumental in making sure that the patient and clinical needs to operate the ward spaces and hospital were understood and adhered to. It became very apparent very quickly that the Medical Gas Piped Systems (Oxygen, Medical Air and Medical Vacuum) would be a critical service to deliver, not only in terms of the distribution to the bed heads, but also in terms of the main plant required and the stringent commissioning process.

To allow the hospital to function a host of other building services had to be installed, including UPS, 4,500kVA of electrical generators for essential supplies, small power systems (over 3,500 twin socket outlets), emergency lighting, bedhead lighting, IT systems (1160 data points connected through 10 patch panels and active switching), ventilation, nurse and crash call alarms, oxygen enrichment monitoring, domestic water services, water heaters, pumped drainage systems, cold room systems for pharmacy stores and a morgue.

What was the most challenging part of working on this project?

The Harrogate Convention Centre essentially has 16,500 m2 of exhibition space, with eight separate exhibition halls that have been developed over the last 40 years or so. Smack-bang in the middle of these halls is the Royal Hall, a Grade (ii) listed theatre dating back to 1903. The first challenge was understanding the existing services infrastructure: Which systems could be used, which systems would need to be enhanced and which systems would need to be brought in to suit the needs of a hospital. We reached out to Silcock Leedham Consulting Engineers for M&E design advice as they had worked on some of the earlier development phases at the HCC and had some good knowledge of the systems. Creating design solutions in very short time scales meant lots of intense discussions with the specialist teams within the NHS for radiology, critical care nursing, infection control, pharmacy and pathology which were all on hand to give advice and detailed requirements that the ICU had to deliver.

The connectivity between the halls was the next challenge: routing a new mains cold water service, medical gas systems and new NHS IT systems through all the halls to ensure systems would operate faultlessly the first time.

What was the most rewarding part of working on this project?

The subcontractors we employed and suppliers we used were simply fantastic. You must remember that when we started the project the entire country was already in lock-down. Employers and manufacturers were already in the process of furloughing staff and reducing output. When we called on our trusted supply chain to mobilise in limited time, there was no hesitation from them. Their commitment and resolve to get involved in the project, setting up day and night shifts for 24/7 day working, was impressive.
There was a real comradery on site - people worked safely and they worked hard as a team. The focus and energy that everyone demonstrated in completing the project was amazing. We were set a very tough task by the NHS and British Army out of necessity. The way our designers, managers, subcontractors and suppliers rose to that challenge was truly inspiring - it makes me extremely proud of our industry and what has been achieved at the Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and the Humber.

How has your job / the industry changed since the pandemic began? 
There is a lot of uncertainty in the industry at the moment, as a number of projects have been ‘put on hold’ whilst the pandemic is having a social and economic impact on the UK. Our teams are working extremely hard with our clients to formulate workable solutions to allow projects to commence once the governmental advice on lifting of the lock-down is confirmed.

On essential ‘live’ projects, it has been a fast learning curve in terms of the day-to-day installation and construction activities to ensure social distancing is maintained, which has also required an increase in on-site welfare provisions. On some sites this has had an adverse effect on productivity.

On a more positive note, there is real engagement with working remotely and the use of software in virtual meetings that really works. We are adapting to a more ‘flexible’ way of working that is creating benefits in terms of work / life balance and demonstrating that there is a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way to conduct our industry. I hope that collectively we recognise this and push it further, building a better understanding and engagement with sustainability and environmental issues to protect our future.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a building services engineer?

Pipes & wires! Working in the building services industry can be very challenging at times but, ultimately, it is extremely rewarding. As M&E folk we create the environment, we deliver the essential services: the building services we have installed at the Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate will allow our fantastic NHS staff to literally save lives.

Find more inspiring stories or get involved yourself with the #WeAreCIBSE campaign


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