Four years after the discovery of non-compliant, combustible cladding in various hospitals, aged care facilities, and other buildings in Melbourne, officials from the Department of Health still can’t confirm whether the cladding has been removed from the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Although there was extra time allocated to the removal of this hospital’s cladding, there is some lingering confusion surrounding whether the job has been completed or not.

How was the non-compliant cladding discovered?

In 2017, a large-scale audit of over 1,000 health service buildings found that 18 public hospital buildings contained combustible cladding. This type of cladding has been ruled non-compliant as it is extremely flammable and puts buildings at a high fire risk. $160 million was allocated to the removal and replacement of this cladding in government buildings, with the highest risk buildings to be rectified first.

At a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearing in February of this year, it was revealed that although documents listed December 2019 as the completion date for the cladding rectification works, Department of Health representatives were not confident that all of the cladding had been removed. While work has begun or been completed on several hospitals to rectify cladding, it appears that the Royal Melbourne Hospital is yet to begin work on the majority of its combustible cladding.

Have any other hospitals begun work?

Seven hospitals have completed work. The following hospitals were identified in 2017 as containing non-compliant cladding, but have since removed all of the cladding:

  • Royal Women’s Hospital
  • Werribee Mercy Hospital – Catherine McAuley Centre
  • University Hospital Geelong
  • Goulburn Valley Health – Shepparton Hospital
  • Northern Hospital inpatient unit tower
  • The north wing expansion at Royal Melbourne Hospital
  • The Special Care Nursery building at Casey Hospital

Why has there been a delay?

The Victorian government received backlash because of the immediate rectification of combustible cladding in all government buildings. Government representatives have defended themselves by pointing out that many of the delays in work on hospitals have been due to lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions throughout 2020.

Victorian government representatives maintain that although all the cladding may not have been removed at Royal Melbourne Hospital, the buildings are still safe to occupy. However, Melbourne residents’ have expressed growing concern due to the occupants being some of Australia’s most vulnerable. Health officials have pointed out that much of the flammable cladding at the Royal Melbourne Hospital surrounds the exits and entryways in the building. This, of course, creates a concerning fire safety hazard.

Have there been any other measures taken to ensure safety

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) clarified that although the cladding may not yet have been removed, there have been other measures taken at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in order to reduce risk. Perimeter patrols have been increased, more sprinklers have been installed, motorcycle parks along the external walls of buildings have been removed, and a cyclone fence has been erected.

Despite delays, the Victorian government is one of the only governments around the world to be facing the issue of flammable cladding head-on. With the increasing Covid-19 vaccination rate, there is likely to be fewer lockdowns moving forward and thus will allow for the government to finish the rectification to keep sick and vulnerable Victorians safe inside hospitals.

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