• Cornish trust refuses to pay some bills and rent to NHS Property Services
  • Trust says cessation of fire safety work on community hospital ward “not acceptable”
  • Company says capital work “remains high priority” 

A community and mental health trust is refusing to pay some of its bills and rent to a government-owned subsidiary company amid fears over fire safety.

Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust is withholding payments to NHS Property Services in a bid to force the agency to take action on “urgent matters” involving fire safety, its board papers stated.

The biggest issue is at Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital, where the required remedial work includes fire safety improvements to three wards (Lamorna, Hayman and Lanyon). According to CPFT’s board papers, NHS Property Services stopped “fire rectification” work on Lamorna ward due to other projects, and that the company has told the trust it cannot finish the job until some time in 2020. 

The trust said this was “not acceptable due to the risk of fire safety”, and it has been forced to decant patients from Lamorna to Hayman.  

A CPFT spokeswoman told HSJ the trust has carried out a fire assessment of the wards and made improvements to its incident response policy, installed more smoke detectors and put extra security staff on duty overnight.

But she added the current fire compartmentalisation at the hospital does “not offer a confirmed one hour fire barrier”, which means people on both floors would have to “horizontally evacuate”. Horizontal evacuation involves remaining on the same floor in a safer place until help arrives. It is considered a less safe response to fire than walking down emergency steps to exit the building.

The spokeswomen said CPFT had negotiated its own licence with NHS Property Services which allows the trust not to pay fees or outgoings in respect of premises which are unavailable for use due to non-compliance with fire regulations.

She added that the trust is also exploring whether it is able to claim for costs arising from NHS Property Services’ non-compliance with fire and health and safety obligations.

An NHS Property Services spokesman said it was working “constructively” with CPFT and that continuing the project to address fire safety at the hospital remains a “high priority”.

“We have secured investment to enable the completion and commissioning of a fire alarm system throughout the main building, which has been installed,” he said. “Additionally, we have sought to undertake proactive work to improve fire safety in decanted ward areas.”

Two years ago, NHS Improvement was brought in to resolve a dispute between the two parties about liability for buildings which CPFT rents from NHS Property Services, during which the trust refused to pay millions of pounds in rent. Last year, CPFT and NHS Property Services agreed an interim deal over the issue of liability for the buildings the trust rents from the company.

There were nearly 1,400 fires reported at NHS hospitals in 2017-18 according to data from NHS Digital. Figures for 2018-19 will be published in October. Last month, University Hospitals of Leicester Trust declared a critical incident after a small fire, which resulted in patients on several wards needing to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, financially-beleaguered NHS Property Services has written off £52m in debt in the last two years, including £31.6m of debt it could not collect from tenants. 

The HSJ Strategic Estates Forum, now in its 3rd year, takes place in London on 12 March 2020. This is a high level strategic forum that brings together estates directors, sustainability and transformation partnership estates leads and trust board leaders responsible for the estates function who are developing strategic plans for their organisations and local health economies. The focus of the forum is on issues such as availability of and access to capital, tackling backlog maintenance, utilisation of the estate and role of technology in infrastructure development. The forum builds on the Naylor Report and highly anticipated 2019 Spending Review. Register your place at this free to attend event on our website: https://strategicestates.hsj.co.uk/register-your-interest-2020