Cladding fears close Oxford hospital unit

Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital is closing its trauma unit after assessment of its fire safety found the building had “serious and embedded fire safety issues”, according to a report by fire safety consultancy Trenton Fire.

The Oxford University Hospitals NHS foundation trust (OUH) had commissioned the report in the wake of the fire which destroyed much of Grenfell Tower. The report found that the external cladding of the Oxford unit, which was also a factor in the London disaster, was unsafe.

The report also found problems with the “inadequate” alarm system and the evacuation procedure, which dictated that immobile patients remain in place until the fire service arrived in direct contradiction of legislative guidance.

The building could be closed for up to a year

The unit’s patients and its 52 beds are to be moved by Friday. The building could be closed for up to a year while improvements are made, although the ground floor outpatient clinic will remain active.

Evenlode and Windrush Towers are also having their cladding replaced after assessment by the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service found its fire resistance insufficient. In these cases however the other fire safety arrangements are sufficient and do not need replacing.

Health union UNISON has called for stronger action to be taken in light of these inadequacies. Ian McKendrick, communications officer for the Oxfordshire branch, said: “It should not have taken 80 people being burned to death in Grenfell Tower before this cladding and other aspects of fire safety were looked at. There’s a widespread pattern of flammable cladding being used in public housing and now hospitals.”

“There’s a widespread pattern of flammable cladding being used”

The union, which has 3,000 members in Oxfordshire’s health services, is calling for transparent investigations of all the buildings possibly affected, the investigation of who was responsible for the use of flammable cladding, bans against companies found to have put lives at risk, and government funds to ensure the continued functioning of the trauma unit at John Radcliffe Hospital.

Professor Christopher Kennard, Head of the Division of Medical Sciences at Oxford University, said in a press release: “[Improvement at John Radcliffe Hospital] is going to be a very big task for the Trust to achieve in a way that minimises the disruption to patient care […] colleagues throughout the wider institution can be assured that all of our residential buildings have been checked and no aluminium/plastic composite panels have been found.”

Dr Bruno Holthof, chief executive of OUH, said: “Our highest priority is the patients in our care and our staff who are dedicated in their care for those patients […] the Trust has been reviewing its fire safety procedures and systems following the tragic events in London. We will implement any changes necessary to ensure that our patients are safe.”