Over 170 UK hospital beds closed over fire safety

Over 170 UK hospital beds closed over fire safety

THE BEDS at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital and John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford have been closed because of concerns over fire safety.

Health Service Journal reported on the closures at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust and Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust (OUH), after both were issued with notices from regional fire and rescue services in the last two years. At Northern General Hospital, the Sir Robert Hadfield Wing – which had opened in 2005 – has been closed since November 2018, with the four wards of 120 beds shut.

This was done after South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service issued the trust with a  prohibition order ‘over concerns that gaps between inner and outer walls were not effective as fire breaks’. As a result, patients have been ‘moved elsewhere’ in the trust’s hospital, with work continuing and ‘no date’ has been set for reopening. Costs are being covered by a contractor that is ‘not receiving any unitary payment’ for the time the wing isn’t being used, with ‘adequate capacity’ elsewhere.

In Oxford meanwhile, the John Radcliffe Hospital’s trauma unit - in August 2017 - saw over 50 patients evacuated after a fire safety report found ‘lives were at risk’. Among the findings were combustible cladding, ‘insufficient fire breaks between floors and vulnerable patients being unable to get out quick enough’, alongside faulty alarm systems and issues with lifts.

In total 36 beds were required to move patients, while ‘specialised equipment’ was moved ‘across two wards in the main hospital building’, and at the time changes to building were expected to ‘take a year’. In November 2017, a ‘catalogue of fire safety deficiencies’ had been identified, with the bottom level of the building featuring damaged fire doors, breaches requiring repair to fire stopping around services and cables passing through walls, and unauthorised temporary storage.

The hospital agreed a plan of works and appointing two further fire safety roles. At that point, in regards to the trauma unit, OUH had ‘no further update’ on the progress of work to rectify fire safety issues, and in January this year the work was ‘yet to begin’, nearly 18 months after the unit closed. Chiefs had said that a timetable and costs to ‘set right’ combustible cladding and other issues ‘won’t be known’ until this Augus, though they had thought that wards on the upper floors would only have been closed for around 12 months.

The ground floor of the building, housing an outpatient clinic, has remained open while upper floors are ‘still in use’ as office and storage space. Health Service Journal added that two wards in the unit, adding up to 52 beds, have been closed, with beds provided elsewhere on the hospital site and the major trauma service ‘continuing to operate as normal’, though even now the trust has not yet set a date for the wards to reopen.

OUH stated that it was ‘still working on options’ for bringing the building ‘fully back into use’, with the board needing to consider these and secure funding, which is ‘likely to be substantial and to require borrowing’. Another issue is that the hospital’s west wing – including the children’s and eye hospitals – can ‘only remain open provided hourly fire checks are carried out’.

As a consequence, the site is subject to a formal fire safety notice concerning alterations and ‘are being patrolled hourly by staff’ from the company’s private finance partner. This company would also be overing the costs of ‘remedying defects’ in the cladding, but ‘there is no completion date for the surveys and mitigation work’ required before that can begin.

The news outlet noted that despite no central figures for fire safety work costs in the NHS, a maintenance backlog of £6bn of which a sixth is ‘high risk’, and Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said some trust leaders were ‘in a fairly consistent dialogue with the local fire officers’, which were becoming ‘increasingly difficult’ as they are unable to progress fire safety work ‘as quickly as required’ because of the lack of capital funding.

A wide range of other trusts have complained about the ‘lack of capital’ and its effects on fire safety provision, while others still have had fire safety notices ‘in place for several years’ including Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals, which received an enforcement notice last December and the work to undertake reflecting this is expected to cost around £20m.

In turn, United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust has enforcement notices on both Lincoln County Hospital and the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston from mid 2017, set to £46m; while all wards at Leighton Hospital, part of Mid Cheshire Hospitals, are being upgraded to comply with building regulations in work expected to last until 2023, having had an enforcement notice issued in 2009.

Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool – part of the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust – has an enforcement notice and expects to spend £1.2m, with the first phase completing in January 2020. North Bristol Trust’s alteration notice has been in place for five years, relating to any changes that may be made to the building that could constitute a serious risk, while a similar notice at Portsmouth Hospitals since 2009 requires notification of any changes impacting fire safety.