RAAC crisis: hospitals prepare to evacuate as CLC steps in

Hospitals with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) have been told to prepare to evacuate, while the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has said it is providing urgent advice to government.

More than a hundred schools have already been told to stop using buildings with the lightweight concrete due to concerns it could collapse at any time – but now NHS England has written to all hospital trusts asking those with known RAAC to review plans for patient evacuation “as a matter of priority”.

The CLC has, meanwhile, said it is creating an expert panel on RAAC to assess risk levels for the government and support with the design and delivery of future remediation programmes. The panel will be coordinated by Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts.

On Tuesday (5 September), NHS England said NHS trusts with RAAC-affected buildings should familiarise themselves with a regional evacuation plan created and tested in the East of England, and incorporate the learnings into their own business-continuity planning.

“Effective management of RAAC significantly reduces associated risks; but does not completely eliminate them,” the letter said.

The letter was written by the NHS’s national director for emergency planning and incident response Mike Prentice and chief commercial officer Jacqui Rock.

The NHS has been surveying sites for RAAC since 2019, after the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS) issued an alert warning building-owners including NHS trusts, of the dangers posed by the material.

In May 2023, NHS England asked NHS trusts, including those providing mental health, community and ambulance services, to reassess their estates for RAAC. The NHS expects initial assessments of sites recently identified as containing RAAC to be completed by the end of this week.

In July, junior minister Will Quince told Parliament that 22 NHS bodies had reported significant amounts of RAAC in their estates. The letter names 27 sites where RAAC has been identified, but the government said it had been removed from three of these sites.

Seven hospitals containing RAAC are being replaced through the New Hospital Programme by 2030. One of those hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, reported last year that it had three times more props than hospital beds, with 79 per cent of its buildings containing RAAC planks.

The CLC’s technical expert panel is, meanwhile, expected to be convened in the coming days and will create a plan to address the immediate support required, including provision of temporary buildings and the availability and competence of inspectors.

It comes after the National Audit Office warned in June that the government’s efforts to remediate RAAC in schools had been slowed by “construction providers not taking up contracts given instability in the construction market and inflationary risks”.

CLC co-chair Mark Reynolds said: “The construction industry has a responsibility to ensure the safety and the confidence of the public in the buildings that are a part of the fabric of their daily lives.

“The CLC is working to coordinate a cross-sector response; marshalling technical expertise and industry capacity to support the government and building-owners to develop an effective programme to assist with prioritising and mitigating the risks; and developing plans to remediate buildings where required.”

Watts said: “While we anticipate that the majority of buildings that contain RAAC will remain safe, there is an urgent need to identify and remedy any risks to the public. As an industry we will support the programme of expert assessment of structures, both public and private, to identify where RAAC has been used and to deal with it to make it safe.

“We will be setting up two groups to take this work forward – a technical expert panel to coordinate our cross-industry response, as well as a communications group. We will be confirming the full membership of both groups shortly, and their work will start immediately.”

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