Ministers admit 34 hospital buildings in England have roofs that could collapse | Hospital

Thirty-four hospital buildings in England have roofs made of concrete that are so unstable they could collapse at any time, ministers have admitted.

The revelation has sparked renewed fears that roofs at the affected hospitals could suddenly collapse, injuring staff and patients, and calls for urgent measures to tackle the problem.

Maria Caulfield, a health minister, revealed this in a written response to a parliamentary question asked by the Liberal Democrats’ health spokeswoman, Daisy Cooper.

Caulfield said investigations carried out by the NHS found that 34 buildings at 16 different health services contained reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RACC), which one hospital chief compared to a “chocolate Aero bar”. RACC was widely used in the construction of hospitals and schools in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but has a lifespan of 30 years and is now causing serious problems.

In 2020, Simon Corben, NHS England’s property director, declared that RAAC planks posed a “significant safety risk” because their age meant they could fall down without warning.

Caulfield’s admission means more NHS facilities are exposed to RAAC than previously thought. Until now, 13 trusts were believed to be affected, but the minister put the number at 16. Her response did not identify the 16 trusts affected or indicate how many of the “34 buildings containing RAAC planks” were hospitals where patients are treated.

However, the identities of some of the affected hospitals are already known, including Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire, Frimley Park in Surrey and Airedale in Yorkshire.

“It is simply unthinkable that patients are being treated in buildings that could be in danger of collapsing,” said Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader. “From record waiting lists to crumbling hospital roofs, patients are paying the price for years of conservative neglect of our NHS.”

Several hospitals now have to use steel supports to hold up roofs to reduce the risk of that happening. One – Queen Elizabeth in King’s Lynn, close to Conservative leadership contender Liz Truss’s south-west Norfolk constituency – currently deploys no fewer than 1,500 supporters.

In a televised leadership debate with his rival Rishi Sunak last month, Truss voiced his concern about the large number of hospitals in England that had major structural problems. “I’m afraid some of our hospitals are falling apart. The Queen Elizabeth in King’s Lynn, near me – parts of the hospital are being held up by stilts. It’s not good enough for patients across the NHS,” she said.

Caroline Shaw, the hospital’s chief executive, told the Sunday Times last month that “the ceiling is like a chocolate Aero bar. There are bubbles in the concrete and we check it daily to make sure these bubbles don’t break and the roof doesn’t fall. It really is like a ticking time bomb.”

She added: “For patients lying in bed and seeing these props, it feels quite unsafe.” The hospital had to evacuate patients from the intensive care unit last year and move some to hospitals 40 miles away for fear the roof could collapse.

But Davey pointed out that Truss had been a member of recent governments that had resisted pleas from NHS leaders for a significant increase in the service’s capital budget to enable an overhaul of its ageing, sometimes dangerously inadequate estate.

“It is outrageous that Liz Truss openly refers to her local constituency hospital being fitted with these caps, despite being in the Cabinet and a senior member of successive Conservative governments. This Government’s failed NHS record of record waiting times and crumbling hospitals is also her record of failure, he said.

Last year, a whistleblower at West Suffolk Hospital, which also has RACC planks, revealed to the BBC that it had commissioned a law firm to assess the risk of being charged with corporate manslaughter if a sudden roof collapse proved fatal.

Hinchingbrooke last year banned patients weighing more than 19 stone from having surgery in two of its operating theaters in case it put too much strain on the floor.

Pippa Heylings, a Lib Dem councilor in Cambridgeshire, said: “We want to see a health minister at our local hospital this week to see for ourselves and finally take urgent action.”

In her response, Caulfield told Cooper that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had set aside £110m “to reduce the immediate risk” and that trusts would receive £575m more to help. However, several of the affected trusts say it would be cheaper to build a new hospital than to rebuild one packed with RACCs.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are taking action to improve health infrastructure across the country and have given more than £4bn to trusts to support local priorities – including maintaining and refurbishing their premises – and have set aside over £685m to address issues directly related to the use of RAAC in NHS estates.

“By 2030 we will have 40 new hospitals that will provide state-of-the-art facilities to ensure world-class healthcare for NHS patients and staff by replacing outdated infrastructure.”

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