The Importance of Fire Safety in Healthcare Estates

28 November 2017

In July a large fire ripped through the three-storey Weybridge Community Hospital in Surrey, located in a residential area close to the centre of the town. The hospital which offered a walk-in centre, two GP Practices, children, gastro and liver services was completely devastated, and the incident prompted almost numerous fire crews to tackle the blaze. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, but all medical services were temporarily transferred to alternative sites.

NHS Property Services deemed the building insecure and it was subsequently demolished following a specialist contractor being commissioned to undertake the work. As an interim measure, NHS Property Services have arranged for a series of 20 interlinked temporary buildings to provide healthcare provision including GP practices, treatment rooms and a pharmacy for the local community of 25,000 residents.

The fire has had an impact on the local community and will do so until a new facility has been built. The incident, does however, highlight the devastating impact that fires can cause and the legacy it creates not just for the hospital but the local community.

At the beginning of the year, it was reported that a hospital was found to have had no fire drills for up to three years. The local Fire and Rescue Service reported that there had been ‘uncontrolled building and maintenance work, particularly with the routing of cables, pipes and other services through a compartment wall, which may have a detrimental effect on the integrity and fire resistance of the wall’. In addition to this, there was no senior manager in charge of fire safety management.

The Fire and Rescue Service who conducted the report, ‘highlighted the need for training of staff in some departments, including in the high dependency unit, and those who have special responsibilities including piped medical gases which may need to be isolated during a fire’.

Following the review, the hospital has now implemented some key changes including the appointment of a permanent fire officer, fire drills are being conducted on a regular basis and computerised evacuation exercises are held for high dependency patient areas.

Fire safety in hospitals, clinics, health centres, mental health units, and community and nursing homes can be particularly challenging and life threatening because of the difficulties and increased risk dealing with evacuating patients, many of whom may be highly dependent and vulnerable.

‘Over the ten years from 2003/04 to 2013/14 there were 3,648 fires in hospitals and healthcare resulting in 412 casualties, including 4 fatalities’ (source: Fire Statistics Great Britain 2013-2014). More recently, in December 2015 at a hospital in Saudi Arabia, a fire killed over 25 and injured more than 100 in the maternity ward and intensive care unit.

In addition to maintaining patient safety, the healthcare estate itself, will also be affected. In 2013, a fire at Stoke Mandeville Hospital resulted in 53 patients being evacuated and wards being closed for weeks due to the amount of damage caused. Due to the reduced bed capacity, patients were transferred to other wards and local hospitals, putting additional pressure on these.

Tackling fire safety in healthcare premises requires partnership working between the healthcare facility, the Fire and Rescue Service and other key stakeholders. To highlight the importance of this and to help address some of the key issues, the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management (IHEEM) has been working with The National Association of Healthcare Fire Officers (NAHFO) to develop a series of fire safety seminars.

The fourth in a series of Fire Safety seminars is being held on 6 December at Newcastle United FC, Newcastle. A range of sessions will be covered including: ‘Cladding on Healthcare Premises’ by Philip Gibbs MSc EngTech GIFireE, Healthcare Partnerships Officer at London Fire Brigade. Have a look at the full programme here >

Previous attendees included: Estate Officers, Heads of Estate, Technical Managers, Consultants, Directors of Estates and Facilities, Business Development Managers, Associate Directors, Regional Sales Managers, Senior Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Fire Safety Managers, Healthcare Fire Safety Advisors, Fire and Rescue Service Inspecting Officers, Building Control Officers and others involved in the delivery of fire safety or maintenance of fire safety systems within healthcare estates.


Then don’t delay, book your place today. As part of #BlackFridayIHEEM, you can book your delegate place for just £100 (IHEEM and NAHFO members) until 1 December. Contact the office on 02392 823186 or book online.

Book online