9th Dec, 2016

'£50m bill' to repair major fire safety problems at University Hospital

Les Reid 31st Aug, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

AN estimated £50million is needed to make Coventry’s University Hospital safer from fire risks following shock revelations.

A safety review conducted by University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire Trust revealed the hospital was constructed without the originally intended fire protection.

The hospital was built under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) by construction group Skanska – which holds a 35-year contract at the hospital.

The internal review revealed structures which would prevent a fire from spreading through the hospital were not as ‘robust’ as they should be, potentially putting patients, staff and visitors at risk.

An Observer source close to the issue, who did not want to be identified, claimed total expenditure to fix the problem will be £50million – and work is not expected to be fully completed until 2020.

The whistleblower told us three aspects of the building were identified for the work – ceiling piping throughout the hospital called ‘Girpi’ piping; fire protection materials in walls throughout the building; and the Mental Health Unit, which had already been forced to close wards at times due to the problem.

Our source said: “Each room in the hospital has passive fire protection in the walls to stop fire from spreading.

“By law, the protection should prevent fire from spreading to the next room for a minimum of 30 minutes, ideally for 60 minutes.”

He claimed some rooms at University Hospital failed to meet that standard.

Our source said a team of 100 workers, employed by Skanska, is now tackling the passive fire protection problem – and an additional 25 workers are carrying out the work at night.

Work to the walls is expected to cost £30million and will not be complete until at least August next year, our source said.

Work at the mental health unit should be completed by January next year, costing approximately £7 million.

The plastic Girpi piping will take until 2020 to replace costing £10 million, the whistleblower added.

David Eltringham, UHCW NHS Trust’s chief operating officer, said: “We can assure our patients, staff and visitors that we remain vigilant in ensuring fire safety standards are maintained at all times.

“Following a review of the fire safety separation at University Hospital, we learned of some potential issues with the infrastructure. As a result of these issues, we immediately launched an internal investigation to determine if any further steps needed to be taken to make the site safer.

“This investigation appeared to show that, in the unlikely event of a fire, the structures to prevent it spreading were not as robust as those specified in the original plan for the building.

“We have worked with our PFI provider to develop a programme of remedial works, which are now underway.

“Until they are completed, we have taken steps to strengthen our already robust fire safety procedures, including putting on additional patrols and increasing rubbish collections, as well as reminding all staff who work at University Hospital of our fire safety policies.

“We also alerted West Midlands Fire Service to the issue and have been working with them closely.

“These extra steps we have put in place means we can assure patients, staff and visitors that the hospital remains safe while the remedial works are undertaken.”

Tackled further, a hospital spokesperson said: “With the steps we’ve taken, we are confident that the hospital is safe. West Midlands Fire Service are satisfied with the steps taken. In terms of the timetable for the works, they are planned to finish by August 2017.”

The hospital told us the trust and taxpayers will not foot the bill.

Skanska was unavailable for comment.