Union calls for urgent RAAC risk register for the NHS

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 18-Sep-2023

Unite members warn risk across the health sector could be ‘substantial’ as it is revealed more than 40 hospitals contain structurally-unsound reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete

Unite, Britain’s leading trade union, is calling on all NHS organisations to urgently establish a risk register for reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) that may have been used in buildings across the estate.

A similar risk register already exists for asbestos and ensures employers are monitored by their health and safety committees under the auspices of Unite health and safety representatives.

Union leaders are now asking for a RAAC risk register to be established at every NHS site within the next 30 days.

The dangers posed by RAAC, which was commonly used as a building material between the 1950s-1980s, are significant and there have already been reports of hospitals refusing to accommodate patients on upper floors of buildings to avoid potential collapse.

If RAAC is discovered, Unite would insist that the employer has a plan in place to deal with it either by replacing the building or conducting the necessary repairs. 

The register would allow monitoring of what is happening and an approved plan to be developed.

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “The RAAC crisis is one that the Government should have seen coming and invested in our health service infrastructure over the past 13 years. Yet they sat on their hands and are now putting our members and the public at risk.

“A risk register would hold employers’ feet to the fire and ensure respected health and safety representatives oversee processes and ensure safety of those on NHS estates.”

George Puckett, chairman of estates and maintenance for Unite’s Organising Professional Committee, added: “This situation has demonstrated that the lack of capital investment in the NHS estate over many years has seen these public assets crumble and deteriorate. 

“Our members in estates and maintenance departments across the country are papering over the cracks to keep the public and patients safe to enable our NHS to function.”

A risk register would hold employers’ feet to the fire and ensure respected health and safety representatives oversee processes and ensure safety of those on NHS estates

Earlier this year a damning report from the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that seven entire NHS hospitals are ‘structurally unsound’ and need urgently replacing after being made using RAAC.

And it revealed that dozens more contain RAAC, a threat that has recently caused the closure of over 100 schools.

The material is structurally weaker than traditional concrete and has previously been likened to a 'chocolate Aero bar', with an expected lifespan of just 30 years.

Hospitals affected include Airedale in West Yorkshire, Queen Elizabeth King’s Lynn in Norfolk, Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire, Mid Cheshire Leighton in Cheshire, and Frimley Park in Surrey.

The two worst affected are West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and James Paget Hospital in Norfolk.

The Government has pledged to remove RAAC from the NHS estate by 2035, and has allocated £685m to mitigate safety risks in the buildings over the next few years.

And the rebuilding of these hospitals has been prioritised as part of the Government's ambition to build 40 new hospitals by 2030.

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