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News archive - September 2017

Tower tragedy prompts hospitals probe

Tower tragedy prompts hospitals probe

Estates and facilities managers up and down the country have had one issue on their minds in recent weeks - fire safety.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy on 14 June, which led to the deaths of at least 80 people, has been attributed, in part, to the use of cheap aluminium cladding, which is thought to have enabled the fire to spread so quickly throughout the building.

Now, similar cladding has been discovered on other properties up and down the country, including a number of hospitals, care homes and health centres.

Thirty eight of the highest-risk sites have been freshly checked and NHS bosses say the review will now be expanded to other hospitals, with another six being added to the priority list.

A total of five of these sites have so far failed the tests, with the latest two - Newcastle upon Tyne hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS foundation trust - recently being reported.

Round-the-clock patrols

In Newcastle, tests found a small part of Freeman Hospital and the Royal Victoria Infirmary to be of concern; while a sample taken from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery site at UCLH also failed.

All sites on the list are either offices or only see patients during the day, but they have now put in place 24-hour fire warden patrols.

In addition, the cladding deemed to be a risk will be removed at all but one of the sites. The exception is at UCLH, where alternative options are being explored because of the size of the building involved.

A spokesman for NHS Improvement, the regulator in charge of carrying out the checks, said: “Patient safety continues to be our absolute priority, and we'll make sure the NHS is supported to carry out the urgent fire safety checks required.”

Prompting discussion

With a thorough investigation into the Grenfell Tower incident now underway, what the tragedy has highlighted is a need for rigorous fire safety checks and improvements to testing and reporting regimes.

It has also led to concerns over a shortage of fully-trained fire inspection experts.

James Fee, head of corporate key accounts at fire safety product supplier, VPS, told hdm: “There probably has never been a greater impetus to instigate safety checks and risk assessments and this has led to a high demand for trained fire risk assessors and, consequently, a potential for a bottleneck in resource availability to carry out the checks.”

Iain Cox, chairman of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, added: “Dealing with fires quickly and decisively in the healthcare sector is important for several reasons.

“Providing property protection and life safety, sprinklers offer continuity as well as safety by minimising disruption and allowing health facilities to return to normal as soon as possible.

“Effective and efficient in a wide range of fire scenarios and building types, sprinklers are one of the most-effective fire safety measures that you can install.”

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