Hospital chief accused of being 'sensationalist' over roof collapse fears
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A hospital boss has pledged it will remain open and accountable to the community it serves after it emerged officials accused its chief executive of being "sensationalist" over fears its roof could collapse.
More than 200 props are needed to hold up parts of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, while it waits to find out whether the government will agree to fund a replacement.
In June, the then-health secretary Matt Hancock visited the hospital, but the EDP, which has been campaigning for a new build, was not among media chosen to attend.
A briefing note issued before the visit, headed 'NO 10 TO CLEAR: Comms Handling for SofS East of England Hospitals Tour', states: "In April, a protest took place to lobby for a new hospital in King’s Lynn due to the current hospital’s urgent maintenance concerns.
"The trust isn’t part of the new hospital programme, and we cannot guarantee the hospital will receive the funding required to upgrade it.
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"Their CEO has been very vocal about the state of the hospital’s roof in recent months, and the NHS England media team has been concerned with the sensationalist tone they’ve been taking in the media."
The briefing note, obtained under the Freedom of information (FOI) Act, goes on: "Due to the concerns outlined above, we recommend keeping this as a private visit, therefore not inviting any media to QEH or producing any social media content around the visit."
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The hospital's own risk register warns the roof poses a direct risk to the lives of patients, visitors and staff in the event of a collapse occurring.
Its deputy chief executive, Laura Scaife-Knight, said: “The modernisation of our hospital is desperately needed and with the QEH now well beyond its 30-year predicted lifespan, it is no longer fit for purpose to meet current and future demand.
"We face the additional challenge of being one of 12 ‘best buy’ hospitals in the country with a reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) plank roof.
“The trust takes accountability, openness and transparency very seriously. We therefore have a duty to keep patients and the local communities we serve well-informed about the short and longer-term plans to address these issues and the proactive steps we are taking to keep our hospital safe whilst doing what is necessary to ensure we have a ‘fit for the future’ hospital that our patients and staff deserve.
"This reassures our patients, local community and staff and demonstrates that we are doing all we can to bring a new hospital to King’s Lynn recognising this is the only long-term, sustainable solution to the challenges we face.
"In response we are developing our expression of interest so we can submit our strongest possible application to be one of the further eight new hospitals early September 2021."
A local newspaper and the BBC did attend Mr Hancock's visit. He later tweeted about the visit and said that he had heard the case for a new hospital.
Days later, he resigned after leaked video footage showed him breaching social distancing guidelines in an intimate embrace with an aide.
When contacted, the Department for Health and Social Care did not comment on the briefing note.
It said in a statement: “We are committed to improving health infrastructure across the country.
"The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has received more than £20 million this year to improve their estate, as well as £750,000 to prioritise and address the most urgent maintenance issues.
“Last month, we launched the first stage in the selection process for eight more new hospitals, as part of the largest hospital building programme in a generation to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030, with expressions of interest invited from trusts who wish to be considered.”
Thousands have now signed an EDP petition calling for a new hospital https://www.change.org/p/build-a-new-hospital-for-king-s-lynn and one launched by Love West Norfolk https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/590390.