Health officials order urgent review of safety of Edinburgh's Sick Kids hospital cladding due to Grenfell Inquiry concerns

Health officials are urgently reviewing the safety of cladding on Edinburgh's Sick Kids hospital due to concerns raised during the Grenfell Inquiry, it has been revealed.

The new hospital, which was hit by delays due to concerns around the safety and installation of its ventilation system and saw its opening delayed by more than a year and a half, has components in its cladding which were also used on Grenfell Tower.

Construction of the hospital is already subject to an ongoing public inquiry, but is fully operational after opening in 2021.

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However, NHS Lothian is now undertaking urgent compliance checks to ensure the cladding on the building does not pose a risk to the health and safety of staff, patients and visitors, The Scotsman can reveal.

The new Sick Kids hospital exterior, covered in the potentially dangerous cladding.The new Sick Kids hospital exterior, covered in the potentially dangerous cladding.
The new Sick Kids hospital exterior, covered in the potentially dangerous cladding.
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It comes after the health board discovered the hospital was not fully compliant with fire safety building standards when it was constructed.

NHS Lothian maintain the cladding on the Sick Kids is safe and there is no significant additional risk to patients, staff and visitors.

Opposition said the revelations were “incredibly troubling” and called on the health board to replace the cladding with a “safe” material.

An update to the NHS Lothian executive leadership marked “commercial in confidence”, disclosed to The Scotsman, details the issues at the hospital.

The document, dated January 25, 2022, states that building standards were not compliant on the new hospital due to the distance between what is known as “cavity barriers”.

These cavity barriers are designed to prevent fire from spreading as quickly as it otherwise would and are, the document states, required every ten metres.

On the Sick Kids, however, these barriers have only been installed every 20 metres.

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However, the hospital’s fire engineers said this meant the “overall level of safety is not significantly reduced”.

Despite this, the hospital’s private sector partner, IHS Lothian Ltd, recommended “additional fire safety actions” including the controlling of “external ignition risks” such as bins, cars and plants and regular checks of the “integrity” of the external walls.

The new hospital is also covered in an Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) style cladding, similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower.

The fire at Grenfell killed 72 people when it ripped through the tower in the early hours of June 14, 2017.

Several types of cladding were used on the West London tower, including Arconic’s version of ACM, Celotex RS5000 insulation, and Kingspan’s Kooltherm K15. It is this last component that is also used on the exterior walls of the new Sick Kids hospital.

Kingspan withdrew fire test reports used for marketing its K15 produce in 2020, after admitting they did not represent the product on the market since 2006.

The NHS Lothian document states information relied on during construction of the Sick Kids have “subsequently been shown to be incorrect”.

Senior leadership at the health board was told “this statement relates to fire testing results that were relied upon by the Multiplex and construction industry which have proven to be incorrect/falsified.”

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Multiplex are IHS Lothian’s subcontractors for the design and construction of the Sick Kids hospital.

Work is ongoing within NHS Lothian to ‘confirm compliance’ with building standards and on updated requirements in Scotland.

In August last year, the Scottish Government issued an updated notice on how to determine the risk posed by cladding on tall buildings, which the Sick Kids may also not comply with, the document states.

However, NHS Lothian maintains the hospital is still safe.

Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothian region and housing spokesperson, Miles Briggs, called for NHS Lothian to remove the cladding and replace it with a safe material

He said: “This is a deeply concerning revelation. Repeated mistakes from SNP ministers meant the Sick Kids hospital opened years behind schedule and it is astonishing that this cladding has been used in its construction.

“The whole project was woefully mismanaged from the start and the public will be beyond shocked to discover this latest potentially-deadly problem within the hospital.

“Ministers must urgently explain why a guarantee cannot be given by the health board that this will not pose a risk to patients, staff and visitors.

“In light of the Grenfell tragedy, this type of cladding should no longer be used and NHS Lothian have a duty now to have it removed and replaced by a safe material.

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“I will be writing to [health secretary] Humza Yousaf to find out what action he will be taking over this.”

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie added: “This is an incredibly troubling revelation and is one of several safety concerns raised about Scotland’s hospitals recently.

“We cannot allow patients and staff to be put at risk due to the use of dangerous cladding.

“We need answers as to why the installation of this cladding was allowed to go ahead and what the Government intend to do to sort this issue.”

In 2017, cladding at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was also found to contain flammable material that forced heightened security and further safety measures to be put in place.

Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital also had to have cladding deconstructed and removed from its external walls due to fire safety concerns.

Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive at NHS Lothian, said the aluminium composite material used on the Sick Kids building is not the same as that used on Grenfell Tower. However, he did not comment on the use of Kingspan’s Kooltherm K15 insulation.

He said: “The Royal Hospital for Children and Young People has been designed and engineered to a very high standard to ensure it meets strict building and fire safety regulations. Indeed, enhancement work carried out before it opened resulted in a building that exceeded existing fire safety requirements.

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“Following concerns about external cladding as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire, the board sought and received additional assurances regarding the building’s safety. Aluminium composite material has been used on the building, but is not the same material that was used on the Grenfell Tower.

“Despite receiving these assurances, NHS Lothian is in discussions with the PFI provider regarding a programme of further improvement as a precautionary measure.

“We are also currently conducting a review of critical systems and infrastructure at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh as part of life cycle maintenance and this review includes fire safety.”

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s director of service delivery, Stuart Stevens, said: “We have and will continue to engage with our emergency service partners at NHS Lothian and Health Facilities Scotland regarding fire safety measures in relation to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Edinburgh Children’s Hospital is safe. We are aware that Multiplex Construction has indicated that there is an element of non-compliance with cavity barriers at the hospital, but the fire advisors for Multiplex have concluded that the overall level of safety is not significantly reduced.

“However, NHS Lothian has indicated that it expects this issue to be addressed and a programme of work is being developed.”

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