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A hospital in Kekri, Rajasthan A hospital ward in Kekri, Rajasthan

Upgrading COVID-19 facilities in India: a race to save lives

The availability of hospital beds and intensive care units has proved critical in reducing the number of COVID-19 fatalities across India. Reaction times were particularly important in the first wave of the outbreak during March and April 2020 when governments needed to take emergency steps to increase facilities in anticipation of unprecedented demand.

This project has shown that rapid procurement and speedy construction really is practical in India. In recent years, we have worked to reduce the procurement cycle to progress delivery – this project demonstrates what’s possible.

Pranay Kumar, project director

Challenge

In April 2020, the state governments of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat in India approached Tata Trusts, the philanthropic arm of the Tata Group, to help rapidly upgrade their hospital capacity as the spread of COVID-19 accelerated. There was significant concern around the rising number of cases in rural areas where access to care and beds was very challenging.

With the case load rising and expected to peak in June and July – which it did – the states were in a race to get the facilities fully operational. Managing the logistics and synchronising all aspects within such short timeframes, during a national lockdown: that was a real challenge.

A brownfield conversion of a hospital might ordinarily take six or seven months to complete. Could it be completed in less than three?

Approach

The seven district hospitals were situated in Gautam Buddh Nagar and Gonda in Uttar Pradesh, Sangli and Buldana in Maharashtra, Kekri and Jaipuria in Rajasthan and Chhota Udaipur in Gujarat. To meet the urgent timescales and extraordinary circumstances, the Tata Trusts turned to Mott MacDonald for project management, quantity surveying, procurement assistance, contract and construction management and cost consultancy.

Excellent support from government provided easy access to materials and resources. Clear communication was also critical, both with contractors and our client. We ensured detailed tracking of expenditure to maintain visibility on progress, despite the inevitable unpredictability of such a rapid turnaround.

Mott MacDonald’s digital capability was invaluable at a time when face-to-face meetings were impossible. Collaborative software and cloud-based storage had been introduced across our business pre-COVID, so it was simply a case of stepping up their use. OneDrive provided cloud support. All the meetings, documentation, tendering, evaluations support and reporting was done through Microsoft Teams, as well as daily interactive tracker reports on progress with the client.

Progress

The COVID-19 treatment centres were set up over 60 to 90 days before being handed over to the respective state administrations.

The beds were all operational and have provided frontline care for patients during the pandemic. The facilities, including both in-patient and out-patient wings, are permanent and supplement existing health care infrastructure in these locations.

Each hospital is equipped with critical care capabilities, oxygen facilities, minor operation theatres, basic pathology and radiology, facilities for dialysis and blood storage, and telemedicine.

Although built as emergency facilities in response to the pandemic, these treatment centres will help support improvements in India’s healthcare services for the long term.

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