Fire risk hospital building work ‘yet to begin’

Fire risk hospital building work ‘yet to begin’

THE TRAUMA unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford has still not seen fire safety works begin ‘almost 18 months’ after it closed due to safety breaches discovered.

In August 2017, over 50 patients were evacuated from the hospital’s trauma unit 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 to, 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’. OUH medical director Dr Tony Berendt stated that the report noted that ‘there are measures to stop a fire spreading on a single floor but the measures we would want to have in place to stop a fire jumping from floor to floor are not there.

‘Following what happened at Grenfell Tower we looked at how to get patients evacuated from the building and this now needs to be looked at in a completely different light, we just cannot get them out quick enough if a fire were to happen. Keeping patients in the unit while we fix the problem is not a possibility for us’.

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 Oxford Mail has now reported that the work is still ‘yet to begin’, nearly 18 months after the unit closed.

In turn, OUH chiefs had said that a timetable and costs to ‘set right’ combustible cladding and other issues ‘won’t be known’ until August 2019, though they had thought that wards on the upper floors would only have been closed for around 12 months. In reality, it has ‘still not worked out what needs to be done to improve fire safety’, with chief finance officer Jason Dorsett admitting that costs would be ‘substantial’.

He added that ‘it is likely to be the summer before we are clearer on the chosen options, the prospects for financing the project and the timescale for delivering it’, with OUH executive director Peter Knight having stated in May 2018 that it had received an initial report on correcting the fire safety issues, with architects commissioned to develop ‘detailed engineering design works’.

However, Mr Dorsett commented: ‘We have been doing some very detailed options work on what is needed to bring the trauma building fully back into use. This work is nearly complete and will then need to be considered by the trust board. Once we have made a decision about what option to pursue, we will then need to find the funding to complete the works, which is likely to be substantial and to require borrowing, which will also take time.’

OUH would also not confirm ‘how or if’ its inpatient service had been affected, with Mr Dorsett stating that ‘it is good value for money to bring this existing building back into full use and so we are seeking ways of doing that’. 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.