Oxford hospitals to see cladding removed

Oxford hospitals to see cladding removed

THE CHURCHILL Hospital and Children’s Hospital in the city will see cladding removed after ‘it was discovered the wrong materials were used’.

BBC News reported on the removal plans at the two hospitals, with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) stating that removal would occur this month, while hourly fire safety checks will be carried out at the Children’s Hospital ‘until the work is done’. OUH’s chief finance officer Jason Dorsett added that the buildings remained safe to use, stating: ‘I would like to assure patients, visitors and staff [...] that current fire safety standards are being met at both hospitals.’

The move came after ‘routine’ building surveys were undertaken, with the facades discovered to have ‘not [been] built with the cladding specified’. Four areas of the building will see panels removed in a 12 week period ‘and, where necessary, later replaced’, with the hourly fire safety ‘walkabout’ checks begun to ‘enforce good practice and housekeeping measures’.

At the Churchill Hospital meanwhile, cladding will be ‘examined, removed and replaced’ on the Cancer and Haematology Centre over three months, with work on the building’s front to continue into 2020. Last month, more detail was given on OUH’s John Radcliffe Hospital’s trauma unit – which 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 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 point, 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. 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 at the time 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.

Rob MacDougall, chief fire officer at Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said in relation to the cladding removal at the Churchill and Children’s Hospitals: ‘We have been working closely with the trust and its private finance initiative providers to ensure that patients, staff and everyone else using these premises are safe while this work is carried out. A comprehensive range of fire safety measures at the Children's Hospital are in place and we are satisfied with the arrangements.’