COVID-19 Referral Centre

COVID-19 Referral Centre


NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group


The blueprint for effective collaboration in health and care development.

In March 2020, Prime partnered with six organisations in a herculean effort to deliver the seemingly impossible; the design and construction of a fully-functioning triage facility for the NHS to assess and treat patients with COVID-19 symptoms in just 21 days.

Located at Birmingham landmark the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), the COVID-19 Referral Centre was an extraordinary project that required pace, ingenuity and unwavering collaboration to deliver something never achieved before.

When a call came in late March 2020, just as the whole of the UK entered into lockdown, asking whether Prime would be willing to be part of an urgent project for NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), there was only ever going to be one answer. With more than 20 years of experience delivering health and care spaces, Prime joined a team of development specialists, including Interserve, One Creative Environments Ltd and Badger to create the COVID-19 Referral Centre. A facility that would normally have been months in the planning and construction, was required in a matter of weeks.

The centre, which was clinically led by the CCG, local GPs and practices, was to be a specialist triage and treatment facility that could assess up to 1,500 patients a day who had been referred there with symptoms by a GP or the telephone service, NHS 111; ensuring they were directed quickly to the appropriate advice, care and, where necessary, treatment.

The timescale in which the COVID-19 Referral Centre needed to be ready required all of the project partners to hit the ground running and form a collaborative working relationship founded on absolute trust and unity. Trust that each member would contribute the pace and rigour needed to get their tasks done, as well as clear and decisive communication to collectively review each stage of the development and solve challenges at pace. In putting the right people together and uniting around a common goal amid a national health emergency, the partners delivered the ultimate blueprint for collaboration in health and care developments.

Working as part of this collective, Prime brought their vast knowledge of legal, construction and design processes to the project. Prime’s holistic approach to development, alongside their understanding of operational functionality, ensured precious time wasn’t wasted getting up to speed with construction and clinical requirements.

In close collaboration, Prime worked with One Creative to devise the flow and function of the centre, creating rapid solutions in the face of continuously evolving information about the virus, to ensure the space met the clinical needs of both patients and staff. Prime and One’s extensive knowledge of clinical settings helped them to quickly map the journey of patients through the facility, leading to the creation of a three-point drive-through triage system in the NEC car park, in addition to an indoor treatment centre housed inside the atrium of the NEC. The highly contagious nature of the virus meant that infection control, as well as patient and staff safety and welfare, was at the heart of every design and operational solution the team devised — from where to change PPE, to the use of materials that could withstand repeated antibacterial cleaning.

The rapidly evolving health emergency created by the pandemic required an accelerated level of decision making and action by all of the parties involved; big, bold decisions made at speed, exceptional communication and a boundless commitment to make things happen in the face of uncertainty. The COVID-19 Referral Centre is an achievement that demonstrates the kind of transformational progress that is possible when health and care partners unify around a common goal. An experience and test of character and skill that Prime can take forward into the development of future health and care spaces, knowing that when we work together, anything is achievable.