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‘Wall of silence’ from Trust on hospital cladding fears

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

SOUTHERN Health Trust officials have still failed to clarify if any of their properties, including Dungannon's recently refurbished South Tyrone Hospital, feature any of the cladding present on Grenfell Tower.

It was disclosed at Mid-Ulster Council's monthly meeting that the Trust still had not replied to a request for assurance from the Council that none of their local facilities had the same cladding as that at Grenfell.

The London tower block went on fire on 14th June, and has claimed the lives of more than 80 people, with dozens more injured, and many of the killed yet to be identified by the authorities.

The tragedy prompted a major review throughout the UK of the type of cladding used on many public buildings.

And Mid-Ulster Council contacted both the Northern and Southern Health Trusts and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive seeking assurance there was no potential repeat in the district.

It was confirmed at the Council's latest monthly meeting that, while the Northern Trust and Housing Executive had responded to clarify that none of their properties had any of the same type of cladding, there was still no response from the Southern Trust.

And independent republican Councillor Barry Monteith expressed his dissatisfaction at the length of time taken to get a reply on a matter of public concern.

He said: "There seems to be a wall of silence from the Southern Trust.

"There are concerns in relation to the South Tyrone Hospital. In England, noone is taking no for an answer and I think we should write to them again.

"It's wholly unacceptable a month later they still can't give us an answer. The people are entitled to an answer and they shouldn't even have to wait for a letter to come through to the Council." Ulster Unionist member Kenneth Reid suggested it may be a matter the Department for Health might need to reply to them about, so Cllr Monteith proposed that a letter be written to both bodies, with the proposal seconded by Sinn Fein's Gavin Bell and unanimously agreed by Councillors.

It is claimed the type of cladding on the outside of Grenfell Tower, installed in 2015 during a refurbishment, had a polyethylene - or plastic - core, instead of a more fireproof alternative with a mineral core.

And this type of cladding could create an additional fire risk, according to some experts.

The Courier has previously contacted the Southern Trust and asked what type of cladding was used on the exterior of the South Tyrone Hospital.

We specifically enquired if the type of cladding had a polyethylene - or plastic - core instead of a more fireproof alternative with a mineral core? The Southern Trust refused to say what type of cladding was used.

In a statement to the Courier, the Southern Trust would only say: "In line with the recent Department of Health communication to all HSC bodies, The Trust is undertaking an immediate assessment of Fire Safety precautions of Trust facilities including checks on the type of cladding used.

"All necessary precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of staff and patients." Refurbishment work to upgrade the external facade of the main tower block at the South Tyrone Hospital was carried out in 2013.

The Courier, reporting on the refurbishment plans at the time, said they were part of a £3 million investment and included the replacement of the exterior facade "with modern cladding", new windows and essential structural repairs.

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