• Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust and Oxford University Hospitals FT forced to close more than 170 beds
  • Comes after the providers were issued with safety notices by local fire authorities
  • Significant parts of one hospital can only remain open if checked every hour

Two large teaching trusts have been forced to close more than 170 beds due to concerns over fire safety, while significant sections of one hospital can only remain open if hourly checks are carried out.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals FT and Oxford University Hospitals FT have both been issued with fire safety notices by their local fire authority in the last two years, requiring improvements to be made to the relevant facilities.

The Sir Robert Hadfield Wing at Northern General Hospital, part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals FT, opened in 2005 but has been closed since November last year.

The four wards in the wing, which contain 120 beds, were shut after the local fire service issued a prohibition order over concerns that gaps between inner and outer walls were not effective as fire breaks.

Patients have been moved elsewhere in the trust while remedial work is carried out and no date has been set for the wing to reopen. The cost of the work is being covered by the PFI contractor, which the trust said is not receiving any unitary payment for the time the wing is unused. The trust said it has adequate capacity as it has brought other areas into use.

Two wards in a major trauma unit at Oxford University Hospitals FT, which total 52 beds, have also been closed since concerns about cladding were raised shortly after the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017. The beds have been re-provided elsewhere on the hospital site and its major trauma service is continuing to operate as normal.

The trust has not yet set a date for the wards to re-open.

OUH said it was still working on options for bringing the trauma building fully back into use for inpatient care. The board will need to consider these and secure funding for the work, which the trust said “is likely to be substantial and to require borrowing”.

Meanwhile, the trust’s “West Wing”, which includes the children’s and eye hospitals, can only remain open provided hourly fire checks are carried out.

The facilities are subject to a formal fire safety notice concerning alterations, and are being patrolled hourly by staff from the trust’s PFI partner. The trust said the company will cover the costs of remedying defects in the exterior cladding of the building, but there is no completion date for the surveys and mitigation work needed before this can begin.

Although there are no central figures for the amount of fire safety work required in the NHS, it has a maintenance backlog of £6bn, of which around a sixth is classified as “high risk”.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said some trust leaders had told him they were “in a fairly consistent dialogue with the local fire officers”, which were becoming “increasingly difficult” as trusts are unable to progress fire safety work as quickly as required because of the lack of capital funding. 

A number of trusts which have not received notices have also raised concerns about the effect a lack of capital was having on their fire safety provision, including Cambridge University Hospital FT and East Sussex Healthcare Trust.

Other trusts have had fire safety notices in place for several years

Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals FT was issued with an enforcement order last December, having had three previous orders lifted. It expects to have to spend £20m to fully address the concerns.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust has enforcement notices on both Lincoln County Hospital and the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, dating from mid-2017. The total cost of the work is expected to be £46m which is being funded through an emergency capital loan, but there could be additional money needed to maintain standards once the work is complete in 2020.

All wards at Leighton Hospital, part of Mid Cheshire Hospitals FT, are being upgraded to comply with building regulations, with the work expected to extend until 2023. It had an enforcement notice issued in 2009.

Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool – part of the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust – also has an enforcement notice, and expects to spend £1.2m in improvements. The first phase of this will be complete in January 2020.

North Bristol Trust has an alteration notice which has been in place for the last five years, which relates to any changes that may be made to the building that could constitute a serious risk.

A similar notice has been in place at Portsmouth Hospitals Trust since 2009, requiring notification of any changes which may impact on fire safety.