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Hospital roofs at risk

Fears ‘Aero bar’ concrete in 34 NHS sites could crumble at any minute

By Sophie Huskisson Health Reporter

NHS hospital buildings made with so-called ‘Aero bar’ concrete are at risk of collapsing, it has been revealed.

over the past year there have been warnings about the risk of crumbling roofs and the catastrophic consequences that could have.

Now ministers have admitted the problem affects 34 hospital buildings in 16 NHS trusts, fuelling fears concrete planks might crash down, injuring staff and patients.

Health minister Maria Caulfield revealed the scale of the problem in a written answer to a parliamentary question asked by the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, Daisy Cooper.

She said NHS surveys found that 34 buildings contained reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which one hospital boss likened to a ‘chocolate Aero bar’. It is structurally weaker than traditional concrete, with campaigners warning a ‘huge scandal’ is impending after a school roof made using RAAC planks collapsed in 2018.

At the time, the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) recommended that all RAAC planks installed before 1980 should be replaced.

They were used in roofs, floors and walls of NHS buildings and schools between the 1960s and 1980s and had an expected lifespan of 30 years. Yet with RAAC still present today, it could have been in place for more than double that timeframe – and could fall down without warning. At least seven general acute hospitals were already known to be affected, including West Suffolk Hospital, Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire, and the Queen Elizabeth and James Paget hospitals in Norfolk.

The West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, had to install 27 metal supports under RAAC planks and last year hired a law firm to produce a report into the risk of ‘corporate manslaughter’ charges should a fatal roof collapse happen. There is a similar emergency plan in eastern England.

The Government said a ring- fenced £110million has been provided to mitigate the immediate risk of RAAC roofs and that trusts will receive a further £575million over the current Spending review period.

Dennis reed, from campaign group Silver Voices, said: ‘It’s extremely worrying – obviously – that roofs could collapse on the top of patients. If there was one such occurrence it would be regarded as a huge scandal. We can’t continue existing in buildings that were built just before or just after the NHS was created.’

rachel Power, of the Patients Association, said: ‘The buildings have been allowed to decay. Proper funding is needed.’

Caroline Shaw, the chief executive of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, likened RAAC roofs to ‘a chocolate Aero bar’ last month. She told the Sunday Times: ‘There are bubbles in the concrete and we’re checking it daily to make sure those bubbles don’t break, and the roof doesn’t come down. It really is like a ticking time bomb.’

The Department of Health said: ‘We have provided more than £4billion for trusts to support local priorities and have set aside over £685million to address RAAC.’





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