Revealed: The "crumbling state" of England's hospitals

10th July 2019

Patient care is suffering in England’s hospitals due to collapsing ceilings, broken and burst pipes and sewage leaks, according to NHS records.   

NHS hospitals in each of England’s regions have suffered as a result of estates and infrastructure issues in the past year.

One trust in the North West had a leaking ceiling near a maternity ward, and the ceiling on a side ward at the same trust collapsed. Another North West trust saw a ceiling tile collapse, barely missing a patient.

The Labour Party sent Freedom of Information requests to every hospital trust in England, and of the 170 that responded, 76 confirmed that their trust had experienced incidents relating to estates and infrastructure in 2018/19.

A trust in Yorkshire and the Humber had broken call bells on one ward and it was reported that faeces were “coming through the floor” in a ward corridor.

When the maintenance team tried to deal with a backed-up drain at one West Midlands trust, sewage spurted up through a patient’s bathroom sink. 

Failure to adequately fund England’s hospitals has led to a significant backlog of “high risk” maintenance works waiting to be carried out and all too often these maintenance issues mean the hospitals struggle to deliver adequate care in affected areas, critics say.

Leaking pipes and crumbling walls are big issues in English hospitals

Broken-down lifts cause significant accessibility issues wherever they occur but in hospitals they can be particularly disruptive, as many patients must be moved on beds or in wheelchairs to different departments. 

At various points in the last year trusts in the North West, South East, London, the West Midlands and East Midlands have all suffered considerable disruption to patient care as a result of faulty lifts.

Plumbing problems, including faulty pipes and sewage leaks, present a number of issues for hospital trusts, not least relating to hygiene and health and safety. An East Midlands trust had one shower between 19 patients for a time due to a plumbing issue which meant sewage came up through the bathrooms drains. Broken pipes resulted in a leak in one ward in the West Midlands, while another trust saw similar problems lead to a severely leaking ceiling above a maternity ward. 

The emergency department at one London hospital had to be partly closed for a period of time due to a severe sewage leak. Also, a Southern trust was unable to provide x-rays for a time due to a burst pipe and similarly a trust in the East Midlands suffered delays, disruption and even the last-minute cancellation of operations due to leaking pipes.  

The NHS now faces a staggering £6bn repair bill, £3bn of which is considered ‘high’ or ‘significant’ risk

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary said spending cuts and freezes carried out by the Conservative government are “pushing hospitals to rack and ruin” and putting the safety and care of patients at risk.

“The NHS now faces a staggering £6bn repair bill, £3bn of which is considered ‘high’ or ‘significant’ risk,” he said.

“Patients deserve to be treated in the very best quality health facilities with the most up to date equipment, and yet the Tories have utterly failed to invest in the infrastructure capital budgets. Only Labour will give the NHS the funding it needs.”

One of the top priorities of the new prime minister must be to give the NHS the cash it needs

Sara Gorton, head of health at UNISON, the public sector union, said: “Years of underfunding has taken its toll on NHS, on both its crumbling buildings and its overworked staff. Something must be done to turn this problem around and soon.

“One of the top priorities of the new prime minister must be to give the NHS the cash it needs to run a properly staffed and modern service so that the experience of every patient it treats is a good one.”

Critics say patient care is at risk

Responding to the revelations, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want patients to receive world-class care so we’re investing £3.9bn to upgrade facilities, which is already improving A&Es, buying cutting edge technology and putting more beds onwards up and down the country.

“The NHS Long Term Plan, backed by an extra £33.9bn a year by 2023/24, sets out ambitions to further modernise the health service over the next ten years and we will consider capital funding proposals from the NHS in the Spending Review later this year.”

10th July 2019