July 5, 2022 at 8:00 p.m.
It is understood that the NHS boss has ‘warmed up’ what would happen if the West Suffolk Hospital building collapsed due to faulty concrete paneling.
The hospital is known to be built using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which is described as “aero chocolate bar” and is prone to cracking.
The Sunday Times reported that health officials had plans for what would happen if the concrete collapsed and part of the building collapsed.
Barry St. Edmunds Hospital is one of seven major hospitals affected by the problem. Others include Hinchingbrook Hospital in Cambridgeshire and Queen Elizabeth and James Paget Hospital in Norfolk.
It has been reported that part of West Suffolk Hospital – or any other affected hospitals will have to close – will be declared a national event with services and relocation of patients to other parts of the country.
To help detect any problems in the building at West Suffolk Hospital, a team is constantly evaluating concrete slabs using ‘tap tests’ and even radar to detect cracks or breakdowns.
Nothing has been found so far, but if there are, steel props can be used to temporarily hold defective roof parts, and ‘felsef supports’ of steel and timber beams will be erected.
A spokesman for the trust said: “The safety of patients, staff and visitors is our priority and we have always adhered to expert, independent advice when it comes to managing our buildings to continue providing safe services to patients. They come forward to take care as usual.
“In addition to a comprehensive and planned program of precautionary monitoring work to ensure the safety of patients, visitors and staff, there is a rolling program of work to check boards regularly, using the latest research and technology. We have a number of practiced solutions to identify and fix any problems.
“Looking to the future, we are in the early stages of the journey of designing and developing our new hospital. We have established our strategic case for change, identified and edited the site for our preferred route, and are in the process of co-producing a new clinical model by submitting an application for outline planning consent. ”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Services said the government plans to distribute 40 new hospitals across England by 2030 – the final eight plans will be announced later this year.
The spokesperson said: “We are working to improve health infrastructure across the country. We have provided more than £ 4 billion to trusts to support local priorities, including the maintenance and renovation of their premises, and set aside more than £ 685 million to directly address issues related to the use of RAAC in the NHS estate.
What is the problem at West Suffolk Hospital?
RAAC was a building material used for large structures from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, but now construction expert Dr Shawl Humphreys says some of those buildings are having problems.
Dr Humphreys said: “The construction method makes the concrete lighter and has more air bubbles which makes the structure lighter and gives it better thermal properties.
“The Arrow Chocolate Bar is a good comparison.
“Initially it was thought to be a structure that was lightweight because it would grow even more. Unfortunately, it has been found to be very weak. And especially at King’s Lynn, there have been some failures.
“Now that we know these slabs are cracking and failing, one wonders if there is a risk of a complete collapse.”
Dr Humphreys added: “Ultimately, they need to be replaced. There is no solution yet on where you can fix them. They need to be removed and replaced.
“If you are removing the roof of a building, it is a very aggressive thing. And if it is an operating hospital, it almost leads you to the conclusion that it is easier to build a new one than to repair the entire roof of an old building, which is very defective.”
What are the plans for a new hospital in Barry St. Edmunds?
Plans for a new hospital in Barry St. Edmunds were submitted to West Suffolk Council in April this year.
The proposed new hospital will spread over 100,000 square meters of land on Hardwick Manor next to the existing hospital space.
It was selected by the government as one of the 40 ‘new hospitals’ to be built before 2030.
The government’s official spending watchdog has called for a review of the claim. The National Audit Office is planning a “value for money review” plan that could take into account rising costs due to rising inflation and whether hospitals will actually be new.
It is unlikely that the West Suffolk scheme will be scrapped by this review as government cash is likely to be allocated to address the problems in RAAC in hospitals.
However, it has been reported that some hospital projects may run out of funds as a result.
Over the weekend, the Department of Health and Social Services insisted it was “on track to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030”.