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North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust - 70 years of the NHS


Home > News > Trust takes necessary action to ensure fire safety compliance at the Cumberland Infirmary

Trust takes necessary action to ensure fire safety compliance at the Cumberland Infirmary

Posted on Monday 1st June 2015
cumberland infirmary

The Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle

Healthcare leaders at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust have today confirmed action being taken to rectify issues with fire safety compliance at the Cumberland Infirmary.

The Trust has, for some time and in particular over the last three years, had deep concerns relating to the estate and facilities management of the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle which is the responsibility of its PFI partner. This follows the publication of the Keogh Report in 2013 which identified many issues and service failures particularly around infection control and, most recently, the serious and prolonged norovirus outbreak. 

Following an independent report commissioned by the Trust to review fire precautions at the Cumberland Infirmary, several further concerns in relation to fire safety have now been identified and shared with the Trust’s PFI partner, who hold ultimate responsibility for the estate and facilities management of the Carlisle site.

Issues identified from the Trust’s own independent report, relate specifically to the fire proofing materials used which did not meet the required 60 minute protection standard to allow for safe evacuation and prevent any fire from spreading in the building.

The Trust is keen to reassure staff, patients and the public on the actions already taken to rectify problems identified, as well as the expected timescale and impact of further remedial works to the hospital building over the coming months.

Work so far has ensured that appropriate sealant is now being applied around the tops of walls and to the underside of floors, creating appropriate compartments which will restrict the movement of smoke and flames in the unlikely event of a fire. This work is around 70 per cent complete. 

Steps have also been taken to train 44 members of staff at the Cumberland Infirmary as ‘fire safety wardens’ providing extra vigilance and support to ensure frontline teams are fully prepared for any eventuality. In addition, over 1000 staff at Cumberland Infirmary have taken part in additional ‘fire evacuation’ training with more sessions planned in coming weeks - this is in addition to 91% of trust staff who have completed their standard fire safety awareness training.

Further remedial work is, however, now necessary across all wards and departments to ensure smoke cannot pass through the main infrastructure and pipework in the building and the timescale for completion of this work is expected to be around 12 to 18 months. This is in order to provide full reassurance to the Trust Board that all fire safety measures within the hospital are fit for purpose.

The Trust will this month apply for planning permission from Carlisle City Council for a portacabin ‘decant’ ward to be created on the hospital site. This will allow patients to be safely cared for whilst these necessary remedial works take place, minimising any disruption to patient care or delay in access to services.

Helen Ray, chief operating officer at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “The safety and welfare of our staff, patients and members of the public using the Cumberland Infirmary is paramount and people can be absolutely reassured that we are taking all of the right steps to protect their wellbeing whilst they are using our services. 

“Our teams in Carlisle have been trained to very high standards in fire safety awareness and we have also arranged for extra training, support and monitoring to take place on a weekly basis in the hospital as these extensive works take place to protect the building itself.

“Whilst all appropriate measures are now in pace to safeguard staff, patients and visitors against the possibility of fire whist this work takes place, the risks identified through our own independent report were wholly unacceptable and were raised immediately with our PFI partner who are responsible for the Cumberland Infirmary building.

“This is not the first time we have uncovered such major flaws in the service provided to us through our PFI partner and the Trust Board remains very deeply concerned that the current arrangements are not providing the high standards of service we require for our patients in North Cumbria on a consistent basis.”    

The Trust has notified all necessary partners and regulatory bodies in relation to the fire safety findings, including the Care Quality Commission (CQC), NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) and NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). In addition, conversations have taken place with Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service who have recently visited the site and support the mitigating actions taken to date by the Trust.

The Private Finance Unit at the Department of Health has also been informed – this is the body responsible for overseeing and advising government on public private partnerships and private finance initiatives.

All staff, patients and visitors at the Cumberland Infirmary are asked to remain extra vigilant as remedial works take place to reduce any possible risk of fire:

  • please do not plug in any personal electrical equipment 
  • please do not smoke anywhere near the hospital building and refrain from smoking at the main entrance
  • please do not clutter wards and departments with personal belongings
  • please keep all fire doors closed