Safety probe into hospital construction after NHS bosses warning

PUBLISHED: 17:13 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:42 12 November 2019

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds Picture: GREGG BROWN

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds Picture: GREGG BROWN

A major structural survey of West Suffolk Hospital is underway after it emerged the reinforced concrete blocks used to build it could potentially be at risk of decay.

Dr Steve Dunn, chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital Picture: TOM SOPER PHOTOGRAPHYDr Steve Dunn, chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital Picture: TOM SOPER PHOTOGRAPHY

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

West Suffolk Hospital chief executive Dr Steve Dunn said that since the survey was launched around 80% 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."

The panels were made using a technique called Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RACC), where steel reinforcement is enclosed.

However the concrete is porous, which can allow in moisture which can attack the steel.

The technique was common in British construction when the hospital was built in the early 1970s. It opened in 1974.

Dr Dunn said it was understood 400,000 panels had been used across the country and only one had been known to fail - at a school in Essex - but this prompted a warning from watchdog body the Standards Committee on Structural Safety.

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

The others are James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, plus hospitals in Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdon, Frimley Park in Surrey. Airdale in Yorkshire and Leyton in Cheshire.

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.

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