King’s College Hospital (KCH) has shut its new intensive care unit and evacuated its occupants after KCH engineers and the London Fire Brigade identified potential fire hazards in the building. The trust “has declared a critical incident over the closure”.
In a post on the trust’s website, Karen Welsh, Head of Communications for King’s College Hospital, explained: “The Trust has closed the new Critical Care Unit so that it can complete the outstanding remedial work inside the unit itself, as well as rectify issues identified more recently.
“Before the unit was opened in April as part of the Trust’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of mitigations were put in place to ensure the safety of our staff and patients. The remaining patients in the unit are being moved to critical care wards at King’s College Hospital, Denmark Hill so that the remedial work can be completed as quickly as possible.”
The unit opened in April 2020 and helped combat the rising number of Covid-19 patients in the area. Designed with beds for 60 patients and costing £100m, the unit was described as “state-of-the-art” by the Trust and “the biggest and most advanced facility of its kind in the NHS” by the Guardian.
The ICU was constructed in a previously unused building on hospital grounds. The building was identified by engineering company Arup Group as “having potentially the same aluminium composite cladding used in Grenfell Tower”, confirmed Business Insider. The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 is described by the BBC as “one of the UK’s worst modern disasters”, with 72 recorded fatalities. The currently accepted theory is that “the polyethylene material in the cladding was the primary cause of the fire’s spread.”
According to Business Insider, government and hospital chiefs have been aware of the King’s College Hospital cladding since 2017, as well as the fire risk posed by its continued use. At least five other hospitals in the UK have buildings constructed with the same cladding. A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing told BI: “We’re not going to identify the hospitals concerned.” The NHS is conducting an “ongoing review” of the issue.
This incident comes after Champion Hill residents were rehoused in January 2020 due to similar fire safety concerns. In that case, King’s was made aware of the issue on December 19, 2019, but waited until January 13 to inform students. The KCLSU claimed this decision was made “to reduce the impact on their study and ensure face to face services were put in place to support them.”