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Concerns over three hospitals at risk of decay after school roof collapse

PUBLISHED: 17:27 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:50 13 November 2019

Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital has been surveying concrete planks at risk of decay. Picture: Nick Butcher

Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital has been surveying concrete planks at risk of decay. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Hospitals in the region at risk of decay are being surveyed for damage after a school roof collapsed unexpectedly.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has received £610,000 worth of funding for a new digital prescription service. Photo: Ian BurtThe Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has received £610,000 worth of funding for a new digital prescription service. Photo: Ian Burt

A major structural survey of the James Paget Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital is underway after it emerged the reinforced concrete blocks used to construct it.

Bosses at the Bury St Edmunds hospital ordered a full structural survey of the 10,000 concrete 'planks' after receiving a warning in May.

The hospital was built in 1974 using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) planks which uses porous concrete, which can allow in moisture and degrade the reinforced steel within.

An alert was issued by the standard committee on structural safety (SCOSS) after a roof collapsed at a school in Essex with "little warning".

West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: West Suffolk NHS Foundation TrustWest Suffolk Hospital. Picture: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

West Suffolk Hospital chief executive Dr Steve Dunn said that since the survey was launched around 80pc of the hospital had been inspected and no faults had been found.

He said the hospital had gone "above and beyond" in inspection measures that included penetrative radar and visual inspection.

He said: "We know where they are, we are photographing them, we are doing both visual and structural assessments of them and have a database of those inspections we have completed.

"Safety is paramount and we are keen to ensure that the building is safe.

"If, through the programme of inspections, we need to take any action then we will take it, and if that includes closing any part of the hospital we will do so.

"But so far we have not found any evidence that we have needed to."

Dr Dunn said it was understood 400,000 panels had been used across the country and only one had been known to fail - at the Essex school.

He said West Suffolk was one of seven in England that had been built using RACC.

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The others are the James Paget Hospital (JPH) in Gorleston, Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn, plus hospitals in Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdon, Frimley Park in Surrey. Airdale in Yorkshire and Leyton in Cheshire.

Chief Executive of JPH Anna Hills said their hospital roof planks had been checked and "nothing of concern" had yet been found.

"As soon as we became aware of the SCOSS alert, our estates team conducted an inspection of the underside of the roof planks across our site. This inspection found nothing untoward.

"The hospital's roof has been extensively resurfaced since it was built. When the Day Care Theatres complex was built in 2015, more than 340 square metres of new roofing was constructed.

"This major construction project involved removing a large section of the original roof - and inspections of the removed planks showed no unexpected deterioration.

"However, we are not complacent - and, as a precaution, we have asked a specialist surveying company, using laser equipment, to conduct a comprehensive inspection of all our roofing planks on the first floor of the hospital. This work is now underway and preliminary findings have found nothing of concern."

West Suffolk is due to be rebuilt in the next 10 years following an announcement by the Department for Health in September.

Dr Dunn said it was widely recognised a new hospital was needed and the age of the facility meant a programme of regular building inspections was in place.

QEH chief executive Caroline Shaw said: "The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is 40 years old, during which time there has been little investment to allow the scale of modernisation and upgrades required.

"The hospital was given a predicted lifespan of 30 years, as per other Best Buy Hospitals constructed at the time.

"While it is clear that minor fixes and repairs are no longer sufficient, we will continue to use this hospital for as long as is possible even as we prioritise developing a case for national capital investment in the QE (including for a new roof) and for medium-term funding for the redevelopment and modernisation of the whole site.

"The Trust has a regular programme of planned maintenance to ensure the safety of our patients and staff, and this programme has not identified any immediate causes for concern.

"Furthermore, in response to the safety alert from the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) which reported one sheer plank failure in a non-NHS site built of similar material and construction to QEH's roof, the Trust has taken additional actions and precautions to ensure safety, including mapping every plank across the organisation and seeking advice from an external structural engineer to support our inspection work; both of which have not changed the predicted life-expectancy of our building to 2035.

"We continue to actively monitor the risk at Board level and accelerate our case for upgrading or replacing our roof."

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