Dangerous roofs that could collapse at any time at hospitals across England will not be fixed until 2035, NHS bosses have admitted.
The disclosure came in NHS England’s response to a freedom of information request from the Liberal Democrats about hospitals that have roofs at risk of falling down on to staff, patients and equipment.
One of the hospitals used by Liz Truss’s constituents, the Queen Elizabeth in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, is at joint highest risk, with four dangerous roofs.
The roofs are built with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), a lightweight, cheaper form of material that one hospital boss has called “a ticking timebomb”.
The hospital used by many people in the seat of the health secretary and deputy prime minister, Thérèse Coffey – West Suffolk hospital in Bury St Edmunds – has two such roofs, coming in at joint third.
Some hospital managers are so worried that their RAAC roofs could crash down without warning that they have had to install hundreds of steel props to hold them up.
Asked by the Lib Dems what the target date was for removing all RAAC from hospital roofs, NHS England replied that it would not happen until 2035. It added that it could not say how much the removal of all RAAC would cost because “this information is not held by NHS England”.
Thirty buildings at 20 different hospitals run by 18 individual NHS trusts have between one and four RAAC roofs, NHS England said.
The Lib Dem health spokesperson and deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, said the response showed ministers were putting hospital staff and patients at risk by doing too little to tackle the problem.
“Kwasi Kwarteng’s first budget prioritised slashing taxes on the big banks over fixing crumbling hospitals. There was a deafening silence from government on how it intends to deal with dangerous ambulance wait times or lack of local NHS dentists, let alone buildings at risk of collapse,” Cooper said.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen and Conservative ministers just don’t seem to care.”
Truss acknowledged during the Conservative leadership race over the summer that some hospitals were “falling apart”.
“The Queen Elizabeth hospital in King’s Lynn, near me – bits of the hospital are being held up by stilts. That is not good enough for patients across the NHS,” she said. It has had to install 1,500 steel supports to ensure the roof does not collapse.
Caroline Shaw, the hospital’s chief executive, has previously described how the bubbles in RAAC concrete render it “like a chocolate Aero bar” that could break open at any time.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has known about the RAAC problem at Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire since 2018 – a year before RAAC became an issue publicly, a separate Lib Dem freedom of information request showed.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, a hospitals group, said: “The prime minister acknowledged during the leadership contest that her own local hospital is falling apart and is being held up by stilts. Yet her government has not yet signalled any intention to give the NHS the urgent capital investment it needs to update its buildings and estates.
“In a recent survey, nine out of 10 health leaders told us their efforts to reduce their waiting lists are being hindered by this decade-long failure and it has a real impact on how much staff can do and how efficient they can be.”
The Queen Elizabeth and West Suffolk are on the list of hospitals that are due to be rebuilt under the “40 new hospitals programme” that Boris Johnson launched in 2019.
The DHSC said it was “committed to urgently addressing any risks to patient and staff safety”. A spokesperson said that it had set aside £4bn to improve health infrastructure, including refurbishment of premises.