NHS England is seeking assurance over the state of the primary care estate in the wake of the ongoing crisis involving crumbling concrete.
Steps are being taken to ensure RAAC has not been uncovered in GP practices after it emerged that unsafe concrete had forced the full or partial closure of more than 100 schools in England, sparking fears it could collapse.
NHS England said following the guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care, it had led to questions over the impact on the NHS estate of RAAC – a lightweight building material used from the 1950s up to the mid-1990s.
Jacqui Rock, the NHS’s chief commercial officer, and Dr Mike Prentice, the service’s National Director for Emergency Planning and Incident Response, in a joint letter, said: ‘Integrated care boards (ICBs) will want assurance about the primary care estate and should work with their local primary practices and primary care networks (PCNs) to ensure you have confirmation that no RAAC has been identified or, where it has, on the identification and management of RAAC.
‘Guidance for the primary care estate was circulated in January of this year, which ROCs can reshare.’
They added: ‘Effective management of RAAC significantly reduces associated risks; but does not completely eliminate them. Planning for RAAC failure, including the decant of patients and services where RAAC panels are present in clinical areas, is therefore part of business continuity planning for trusts where RAAC is known to be present, or is potentially present.
‘A regional evacuation plan was created and tested in the East of England. Learnings from this exercise have been cascaded to the other regions.
‘We would recommend that all boards ensure that they are familiar with the learning from this exercise and that they are being incorporated into standard business continuity planning as a matter of good practice.’
Management plans have already been put in place at trusts which have previously identified RAAC, as some have compared the material to an ‘aero chocolate bar’.
They thanked the work of NHS teams in relation to the issue and underlined the need for any problems to be tackled effectively.
‘In light of the need to maintain both the safety and confidence of staff, patients and visitors, we recommend that in those organisations where the presence of RAAC has been confirmed and is being managed, boards take steps now to assure themselves that the management plans in place for each incidence – and particularly where panels are currently subject to monitoring only – are sufficiently robust and being implemented,’ they added.
‘Thank you to you and your teams for the work on this to date, particularly in those organisations where RAAC has been found and management/remediation plans have been enacted.’
The Government first became aware of public sector buildings that contain RAAC in 1994 and then started monitoring their condition during 2018.
It has led ministers to set aside £700m for NHS hospitals in England with RAAC issues.
The National Audit Office has underlined that 41 hospitals had RAAC and seven were built with the aerated concrete ‘throughout’.
RAAC is said to have a shelf-life of around 30 years and the Department of Health and Social Care has said it remains committed to eradicating RAAC from the NHS estate entirely by 2035.
A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication Pulse.