In the wake of the horrific fire that claimed the lives of 72 people, concerns over the use of combustible panels in Grenfell Tower, which is still located on the nation's superhospital, prompted a thorough investigation six years after it was deemed safe.

Six years after one of the worst modern disasters in the UK occurred on June 14, 2017, representatives from the Scottish Government have acknowledged that extensive "intrusive investigations" are being carried out by Scotland's largest health authority regarding the controversial insulation boards at the 197-foot-tall Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

While NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde claimed the Kingspan Kooltherm K15 insulation boards it had used were safe three years prior, it later came to light that the organisation had requested their removal in 2017 but purportedly did not follow through with the request.

It is apparent that some of the K15 insulation has already been taken out, but only in the places where it was combined with Alucobond aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding panels. This is true even though Alucobond claimed that Grenfell Tower did not use its cladding material.

It has been confirmed that the health board has taken the new action after taking further fire engineering advice.

One of the two insulation types used on Grenfell that ended up being combustible was K15.

Manufacturer Kingspan denied wrongdoing and claimed it was unaware that Grenfell was built with one of its materials.Manufacturer

In July 2017, the health board received assurances that K15 was "properly installed to comply with building and fire safety regulations, according to an official report of a ministerial working group on building and fire safety led by then Communities Secretary Angela Constance and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart. safety,

It said: "We are confident this product has been used in a proper and safe manner in the hospital."

The Grenfell inquiry received evidence that Irish company Kingspan marketed the insulation with fire test certificates that did not accurately reflect the product being sold. Despite this, the health board had maintained that it would not even consider removing K15.

In December 2020 the health board even suggested that K15 did not form part of cladding systems and was not replaced because "it does not pose a risk". It said it was "one of the safest buildings in the UK in terms of fire engineering".

In July of last year, it defended that statement.

The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital was one of the significant projects that Kingspan listed. According to the report, the 14-story hospital's external walls have "a range of façade systems" installed with Kingspan Kooltherm K15 rainscreen boards.

The panels were said to provide the "necessary thermal performance," which ensured that the hospital scored the highest A+ rating for energy efficiency.

The hospital was covered in K15 material, including pipe insulation, to a minimum of 166,000 square feet.

After being questioned about K15, the Scottish Government's directorate for health finance, corporate governance, and value confirmed that "intrusive investigations" were suggested in an interim draught report into the use of the materials used in the hospital's exterior walls.

Six years after Grenfell, the Scottish Tenants Organization (STO), which has been advocating for cladding safety in social housing, has expressed concern over the lack of action taken to remove the materials from the hospital and other buildings.after

"The health board should do more than have a belated detailed investigation by removing the K15 insulation that was on Grenfell from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital because we can only ensure the safety of patients, hospital staff, and visitors by removing it immediately," they claimed.

Retired Scots architect Robert Menzies, who was involved in the designs for what is Scotland's largest hospital complex, remains concerned about whether the building is fire safety compliant and questions the legality of its use over 18 metres.

He said the original fire rating of K15 "fails on all levels and at all heights" and should never have been installed on any part of the hospital facade in the first place.

He has so far failed in a six-month long request for permission to see the hospital's fire strategy submitted to building control.

"I am questioning its use above 18m primarily, pointing out it would be illegal. Below that height, I'm pretty sure it is banned unless it is 'low risk' which it is not," he said.

Six years ago, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reported that Multiplex, the project's principal contractor, had given assurances that the materials were installed correctly and complied with "Scotland's strict building and fire safety regulations."

The Scottish Government has also said it has been assured that the insulation in the hospital, which officially opened in July, 2015, was fitted correctly and met fire regulations.

The Grenfell inquiry was informed that combustible insulation was used as part of cladding systems on high-rise buildings as early as 2014, with K15 being the primary product. This information was made known to government officials in charge of fire safety in buildings.

Three years ago, Kingspan technical manager Philip Heath admitted in evidence to the Grenfell inquiry that "with hindsight," it should have withdrawn K15 from the market as a product suitable for use on buildings above 18m after a revised version of the product dramatically failed a 2007 Building Research Establishment fire test.

Kingspan technical manager Ivor Meredith, who said he was uncomfortable with how the company’s K15 insulation was being marketed, and that he was "under pressure" to get test results that proved it was safe, said that "we were struggling to get the technology to pass, to justify our lie", and had been fired for gross misconduct in 2015.

Mr. Meredith said at the inquiry, that it was “common knowledge” that Kingspan was relying on a fire safety test certificate from “old technology” for the materials used on Grenfell Tower.

A newer version of combustible K15 sold from 2006 onwards was observed by Mr. Meredith as having “burnt very ferociously” in one failed cladding test, but the firm persisted in using a 2005 test pass from an older version of the product to sell the newer one, the inquiry has heard.

In October 2020, it was confirmed that test certificates for K15 from the 2005 tests had been withdrawn.

The letter said: “It became apparent that the K15 manufactured in 2005 would not be representative of the product currently sold on the market from 2006 to today.

“While both products are still phenolic foam, Kingspan is now of the view that there are sufficient differences to consider withdrawing the test report.”

The firm acknowledged “process shortcomings during the period of 2005 to 2014, for which it sincerely apologises.”.

But it said building regulations at the time permitted K15’s use on tall buildings, provided the overall cladding system was compliant.

Evidence also emerged that Kingspan threatened to injunct an industry insurer that wanted to tell its members the product was unsafe to use on high-rise buildings.

Kingspan called in solicitors after housing insurers NHBC (National House Building Council) suggested they would not cover high-rise buildings using K15 as the manufacturers could not prove it was fire safe.

After more than 12 months of back and forth, by early 2015, a matter of months before the Glasgow super-hospital opened, the NHBC had placed ultimatums on Kingspan to provide test data to prove that K15 insulation was safe for use in buildings more than 18 metres tall.

A letter from NHBC to the insulators in 2015 said: “The absence of evidence from Kingspan means we will soon be faced with having to decline to accept buildings currently under construction with K15 products.” Without further evidence to support it, it could be used in tall buildings.

A response from Kingspan’s solicitors, Fenwick Elliott, requesting more time to prove they could be compliant, promised further action.

Sean Clerkin, STO campaign coordinator, said: "It is appalling that this insulation has remained up on the external walls of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for so long as it remains an ever present danger to all who use the hospital. It has to be removed and replaced by non flammable insulation."

A £33 million project to remove unidentified fire-risk cladding from the atrium of the hospital began in November, last year and is expected to be completed in 2027.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the cost of the work is being supported by the Scottish Government, and is part of a multi-million pound legal claim that is being pursued by the health board.

The health board is suing the contractor, Multiplex, for £73 million over the construction of the £842 million campus, which includes the Royal Hospital for Children, amid a raft of problems at the facility, including defective windows.

Two months after the Grenfell blaze, in August, 2017, the health board said that unidentified ACM cladding assessed as low risk found on parts of the hospital was to be removed "at the earliest possible opportunity" as a "purely precautionary measure." They were "of a similar type to, but not the same as," as used at Grenfell.

An NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spokesman said: "The K15 Insulation was installed at the QEUH in accordance with stringent building regulations, and at the present time, there are no new requirements that necessitate its replacement. However, we are currently engaged in further intrusive investigations at the QEUH, following independent fire engineering advice, and should there be any implications for the hospital, we will take action accordingly."

Kingspan said it had "absolute confidence" in the safety of its K15 insulation board, when installed correctly.

It said that in  circumstances where they had responsibility for the inappropriate use of K15 in buildings, and its safe retention could not be supported by testing, they would pay their share of remediation costs. 

A Kingspan spokesman said: " In some recent cases, assessments and large-scale fire tests have resulted in systems incorporating K15 being retained, in accordance with Government guidance.

“Building safety is a critical matter for our industry, and fire safety issues associated with high-rise buildings in the UK range far wider than insulation products, and involve a host of organisations and different product categories.  It is therefore critical that industry and Government work together to accelerate independent fire risk assessments to inform the scope of remediation required. We remain committed to contributing to an appropriate joint Government and industry-wide scheme to address the wider fire safety issues in buildings where those responsible can’t or won’t pay. We welcome a discussion with the UK Government on this.”

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