Elderly patients staying in beds at the Bolingbroke Hospital in Wandsworth are to be moved to different accommodation because the outdated nature of the building means it could be difficult to evacuate them safely in the event of a fire. It is hoped that the transfer of inpatients will be completed by early February.

The move follows discussions between the London Fire Brigade and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust about fire safety at the Bolingbroke Hospital. The discussions were initiated by the Trust, who sought the Fire Brigade’s advice about fire safety.

The fundamental problem is that the design of the building would lead to severe ‘bottlenecks’ which would slow the evacuation of patients from inpatient wards, located on the upper floors of the building.

While discussions are underway about the long-term future of services at the Bolingbroke, the Trust’s ultimate responsibility for the safety of patients means that inpatients there will be moved to beds at other local hospitals and nursing homes. The move will affect up to 54 elderly patients currently staying at the Bolingbroke.

Outpatient care and other services will not be affected at this stage, but further urgent work is underway to finalise proposals for them.

The estimated cost of bringing the building up to the minimum fire safety standards required for inpatient care is in excess of ?790,000. But the works involved would take months to complete, which under the circumstances is not an acceptable timescale.

The Trust, patient and staff representatives, local GPs and others are in the midst of developing proposals for the long-term future of services at the Bolingbroke. So a decision on investing this much money will not be taken until the public has been consulted about the long term future of services at the Bolingbroke.

Dr Judith Coles, Consultant Geriatrician at the Bolingbroke, said:

“If there was a fire at the Bolingbroke, the Fire Brigade have told us that there could be problems evacuating the patients. Our professional duty of care to our patients means we must respond appropriately.

“We know that moving older patients – especially those who are long term patients – needs great care and sensitivity. We will be carrying out these moves in a very carefully considered way, and will be looking to the experience of our staff – many of who have experience of similar moves in the past – in how best to carry this one out.

“In doing so we are trying to do the best for our patients, and to strike a balance between the effects of moving them and the serious risks of not doing so.

“I and my colleague doctors who care for patients at the Bolingbroke agree that we have to take this action. We realize that it will be disruptive for patients and for their relatives and carers, but would ask them to understand that we are taking what we think is the very best action in difficult circumstances.”

St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Chief Executive Peter Homa said:

“This has been a very difficult decision to make. Debate about the future of the Bolingbroke has been going on for many years. As those involved will know, we are in the middle of discussing the best options for the long-term future with patient and staff representatives, local GPs, the Borough of Wandsworth and others.

“Staff at the Bolingbroke can be reassured that we are not planning any changes in the number, or type of staff providing these services. As soon as we can let staff know about where their work may be moving to we will do so.

“There may be accusations that we are taking this short-term action because we want to close the Bolingbroke by stealth, or because of the Trust’s well-known financial difficulties. Nothing is further from the truth.

“All involved agree that the physical layout and environment of the Bolingbroke are out of date – now the advice we have sought from the Fire Brigade has shown that in some ways the building is not just out of date – it is also unsafe.

“I would like to apologise to patients, relatives and staff involved. I recognize that even with careful planning, this move will create anxiety and inconvenience. We would ask them to recognize that we are taking this action because of our ultimate responsibility for the safety of our patients.”

Notes to editors

A Bolingbroke Project Group was set up two months ago to develop proposals for the long-term future of services at the Bolingbroke Hospital. It includes patient and staff representatives, local GPs, the St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Wandsworth Primary Care Trust, Wandsworth Borough Council and the South West London Strategic Health Authority. Once this group has developed clear plans for the future, a full public consultation exercise will be carried out.

There are at present a total of 54 inpatient beds at the Bolingbroke. Of these:

  • 16 are Intermediate Care beds run by Wandsworth Primary Care Trust
  • 29 are rehabilitation inpatient beds for older people
  • 9 are long-term care beds for older people.