Diesel spill closes wards at Southend Hospital


160 patients evacuated after leak from rooftop fuel tank

  • Rooftop tank linked to heating system leaked diesel
  • Spill affected ground to third floors of the Cardigan Building, including maternity unit
  • Firefighters called to scene and nearby brook contaminated
  • Wards have now re-opened following clean up operation

A maternity ward at Southend University Hospital was evacuated and closed to patients last week after a diesel fuel leak.

Around 160 patients were evacuated and ambulances were diverted to Basildon and Thurrock hospitals as fire crews were called to help with the major incident on the third floor of the hospital.

The leak, in the Cardigan Building, was quickly contained, although an odour remained in some areas, preventing patients from immediately returning to the site.

The trust has revealed that the leak came from a 1,000-litre fuel tank linked to the trust’s heating system, which ensures a gas or diesel option for the boilers is available at all times to heat the facility.

Both the second and third floors, and part of the first and ground floors, were partially evacuated as a result.

Neil Rothnie, medical director at the hospital, said: “Hospital staff and the emergency services responded rapidly to the fuel leak and worked extremely hard in taking precautionary safety measures by evacuating patients from some of our wards in the affected part of the hospital.

“I must emphasise that no patients, visitors or staff on the hospital site suffered any harm as a result.”

Jan China, director of estates and facilities management, added: "We are continuing with our urgent investigation into the cause and impact of yesterday's diesel fuel leak.

"The diesel fuel in the top floor plant room is essential to ensure that we can provide continuous heating for our patient areas should the primary gas system fail, and is standard practice.

"We have worked closely with the Environment Agency and a specialist contractor, who we called to assist us at the time of the incident yesterday, and have cleaned up the spill, which has reduced the strong odour.”

He added that some of the spill had escaped into a surrounding waterway.

He said: "We were made aware rapidly yesterday that some diesel fuel from the spill had entered the Prittle Brook. Boom barriers have been put in place along the brook to minimise the immediate impact and the clean-up is in progress.

"Our top priority now is to ensure that we continue to effectively manage the consequences of the spill, but we will obviously assess the financial impact of the incident once the clean-up is complete.

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"Our staff and partner agencies responded fantastically to the incident, and all agreed that the emergency plan worked very well."