Why our hospital needs life-saving treatment

For four decades the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn has been one of the most important buildings in the county, but it’s now over a decade past its expected lifespan and is in desperate need of attention

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is a 515-bed general hospital on the outskirts of King’s Lynn, covering a catchment area of some 9,000 square miles and serving a population of around 331,000 people across three counties. In addition to crucial healthcare and support, the hospital provides everything from employment to training and volunteering opportunities - but it’s now in need of emergency treatment itself.

The QEH opened in 1980 as one of a clutch of ‘Best Buy’ hospitals around the country, along with the West Suffolk in Bury and the James Paget in Gorleston. To cut costs and hasten the modernisation of the NHS, they were constructed using prefabricated concrete components - and were only expected to last for 30 years.

The QEH has now been fully operational for 41 years.

The reason for the short shelf life lay in the the material used to construct the hospitals’ roofs. At the time the use of Reinforced Autoclave Aerated Concrete (RAAC) planks seemed like a good idea.

They may have been lightweight and relatively inexpensive, but they were considerably less robust than traditional concrete and were prone to weakening, cracking and leaking. Over time water inevitably got into the cracks, changing the concrete’s structure and making it less able to support the weight of the building and its contents. Since nearly 80% of the QEH’s estate was constructed using RAAC, it’s now well past the anticipated end of its life and is in a truly desperate state.

The roof is currently being held up by over 210 steel support posts in 46 areas, probably making the QEH the most propped-up hospital in the country. And to make matters worse the roof also contains asbestos.

ABOVE: MP for North West Norfolk James Wild inspects the roof at the QEH on a recent visit, a roof which is currently being held up by over 210 steel support posts. The hospital is in urgent need of attention - and the best solution may well be a completely new hospital

Concerns about the structural performance of RAAC prompted an inspection of the hospital earlier this year, and on March 10th engineers identified ‘immediate’ risks to the roof of the critical care unit.

It resulted in seriously-ill patients being moved out of the area with only 30 minutes’ notice, causing a considerable amount of confusion and alarm. The hospital’s own risk register stated that “there is a direct risk to life and safety of patients, visitors and staff due to the potential of catastrophic failure of the roof structure because of structural deficiencies.”

Despite this rather dire situation, the QEH wasn’t selected as one of the 40 hospitals included in a £3.7 billion building package announced by the government last autumn.

Both the James Paget and West Suffolk hospitals have been awarded funding for rebuilding, but the QEH received nothing. Next spring a further eight hospitals will be added to the building programme, and the QEH submitted two desperate ‘Expressions of Interest’ in September.

The first (and best) bid was for a single-phase complete new build, although due to restraints of national capital budgets the QEH also applied for a multi-phase development.

We need to tell politicians how important a new hospital is to us. I’m not sure how much of a difference we can make, but we can’t sit back and do nothing…

This would involve individual parts of the hospital being demolished and rebuilt, and it’s not the ideal solution since it would take much longer, cost more in the long term, and patients could well need to be transferred to other hospitals whilst the building work is taking place.

In addition to this, many local people, businesses and companies have created online petitions to help encourage support for a rebuild.

“So many of us have needed the QEH in the past or will need it in the future,” says the determined Gordon Taylor, dedicated NHS worker and one of the driving forces of the QEH campaign. “We need to tell politicians how important a new hospital is to us. I’m not sure how much of a difference we can make, but we can’t sit back and do nothing.”

Our hospital needs help ugently, and everyone can play a part. Sign one of the campaign postcards, follow the progress on Facebook, write a letter to your local MP, or sign one of the online petitions.

Add your voice to the calls for the new hospital our area needs, because together we can make a difference.

If you love west Norfolk and would like to support the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, please sign the petition today at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/590390

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