Vast bulk of social housing deliberately excluded from Fire Safety Review

The fire safety review announced by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster deliberately excludes social housing where fire risks are most serious, according to Social Democrats Cllr Cian O’Callaghan.

Cllr O’Callaghan said the scope of the ongoing review is excessively narrow, focusing only on multi-storey buildings of five storeys or more and ignoring timber frame developments which should be a core part of the analysis.

Cllr O’Callaghan said:

“The vast majority of social housing is not included in the fire safety review, which focuses on multi-storey buildings. These are defined in the Local Government Multi Storey Buildings Act 1988 as five storeys or more.

“In reality, we only have local authority housing developments of five storeys and more in major urban areas. This means that the review deliberately excludes the vast bulk of social housing including multi-unit three and four storey developments.

“Serious fire safety defects have come to light in the past year in social housing in three and four storey timber frame developments. However similar developments are excluded from this review which looks only at buildings of five storeys or more which do not have timber frames.”

Cllr O’Callaghan added:

“The fire safety review which focuses on fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire escapes and emergency lighting does not include a review of structural defects and non-compliance with the Fire Safety Building Regulations.

“Given that serious fire safety defects including deficiencies in fire proofing and fire separation have emerged in social housing stock in timber frame developments, this should also form a core part of the review.

Cllr O’Callaghan said the fire safety review must include:

  • Multi-unit developments and 3 & 4 storey developments with communal areas which have a higher fire risk.
  • Structural fire safety defects, including non-compliance with the Fire Safety Building Regulations.

Rapid Build Housing

Providing Emergency Housing for homeless families as an alternative to overcrowded hotels and B&Bs is very welcome.

However whether or not rapid build housing is the most cost effective method remains to be seen. I’ve been calling for several months now for a Cost Effectiveness Analysis to compare this form of housing delivery with other forms to see which is the best approach.

These are a couple of articles I’ve written to draw attention to some of the questions that need answering regarding Rapid Build/ so called Modular Housing:

Claims that funding is not an issue in homeless crisis are absurd

The claim by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny that funding is not an issue in the homeless crisis is galling for two reasons:

Firstly following the death of Jonathan Corrie, Alan Kelly told the Dublin Councils to take whatever steps were necessary to deal with the homeless crisis. He made it clear that funding would not be an issue.  This was a significant commitment given that his department meets 90% of homeless services costs (or at least that was the case before he took office).

However since then his Department has refused point blank to meet their commitments and are only funding about 60% of the costs of homeless services. This has left a bad taste in the mouth for the Dublin local authorities – not least because they were told that funding would not be an issue.

This in turn has put emergency homeless services which are having to deal with record numbers of individuals looking for assistance under additional strain. On several occasions homeless families have been turned away from emergency Homeless Services. They have been told that the homeless service credit card is maxed out and that there is nothing that can be done to assist them. It is galling to hear the Minister state that funding is not an issue – when families have slept in cars because he will not deliver on his funding obligations.

Secondly the root cause of the escalating homeless crisis are two political decisions made by this Government to slash funding for housing supports for low income families. They have specifically decided to grossly under-fund social housing provision while at the same time they  cut rent allowance. Both decisions have been made despite escalating rents and a shortage of supply in the private rented sector. The only possible outcome of these decisions to cut housing funding for low income families in the context of a squeezed private rented sector is to rapidly exacerbate the homeless crisis. The escalating homeless crisis is all about funding and political decisions that target the most vulnerable.

22 HIQA Waiting List Reports not implemented

The HSE has yet to implement a single HIQA report designed to reduce the number of unnecessary referrals to hospital and cut waiting lists. Waiting lists for outpatient appointments have exceeded 400,000 people for the first time.

During 2013 and 2014 HIQA published 22 Health Technology Assessments with recommendations – which if implemented – would help reduce hospital waiting lists significantly. These reports have been sitting on the Minister’s desk without any response, any action, or any implementation.

The HSE asked HIQA to recommend referral criteria and treatment thresholds based on international evidence and best practice. In response to this request HIQA undertook 22 separate Health Technology Assessments. A Health Technology Assessment is a multi-disciplinary approach used to determine how best to make use of limited resources within the health sector. With input from an expert advisory group and a review of international guidelines, international policy and economic evaluations HIQA made a number of recommendations.

Frequently reports commissioned by Government remain unimplemented as the resources to implement them are scarce. In this instance implementation would in fact free up resources and make our healthcare system more efficient. Minister Varadkar must explain why he has failed to implement these reports.

Current data suggest that 30% to 50% of patients referred to surgical outpatients (across all disciplines) do not proceed to surgery and are referred back to primary care. Reducing the rate of referral of patients who do not proceed to surgery would release capacity and resources at the tertiary care level, so that the patients with greater clinical need get speedier access to outpatient review and surgery, without causing harm or reducing benefit.

For a full list of the 22 HIQA reports please see:

86% increase in Government spend on health spin

While the Government chose to cut and freeze spending for frontline health services, the 2015 estimates reveal an astonishing 86 per cent increase in spending on PR.  Under the heading of Dissemination of Information, Conferences and Publications, T.D.s voted to increase spending from €813,000 in 2014 to €1.513 million this year.

At the same time the Government has slashed health spending by €213 million euro in 2015.  The effect is further damage to our healthcare system including:

  • record levels of overcrowding in hospitals – during February of this year 9,657 patients were waiting on trolleys and in chairs
  • over the last year hospital waiting lists for elective surgery have trebled
  • rolling closures of operating theatres in Hospitals such as Beaumont have doubled since January

PR and spin were not the only the areas to get increased funding though. Varadkar also found extra resources for consultancy and policy reviews, where spending will increase by 19 per cent in 2015.

During the same vote Government T.D.s decided to cut spending on medical cards, primary care and community care. Primary Care Reimbursement Services and Community Demand led schemes received a 1% cut in funding while 8 million euro was taken away from Medical Card provision.