Concerns over combustible panels used in Grenfell Tower which remains on the nation's super-hospital have led to a detailed investigation six years after it was passed safe in the wake of the horrifying blaze that claimed the lives of 72 people.

Scottish Government officials have confirmed that detailed "intrusive investigations" are being conducted by Scotland's biggest health authority over the controversial insulation boards at the 197ft-high Queen Elizabeth University Hospital six years after what was one of the UK's worst modern disasters on June 14, 2017.

Three years ago, while NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde insisted the Kingspan Kooltherm K15 insulation boards it had used was safe it emerged it had applied to have it removed in 2017 but it was said it did not pursue the move.

It can be revealed that some of the K15 insulation has already been removed, but only in areas when it was used in conjunction with Alucobond aluminum composite material (ACM) cladding panels. That is despite the fact that Alucobond said its cladding material was not used at Grenfell Tower.

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

K15 was one of two types of insulation used on Grenfell that turned out to be combustible.

Manufacturers Kingspan denied wrongdoing and said it did not know its material was being used on Grenfell.

An official account of a ministerial working group on building and fire safety chaired by then communities secretary Angela Constance with housing minister Kevin Stewart stated in July, 2017 that the health board had been assured that K15 was "properly installed to meet building and fire safety regulations".

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

READ MORE: Health chiefs insist flammable Grenfell cladding 'no risk' at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

The health board had continued to insist that it would not consider removing K15, despite evidence provided to the Grenfell inquiry that Irish group Kingspan marketed the insulation with fire test certificates which did not represent the product being sold.

The Herald:

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

In July, last year it defended that statement.

Kingspan listed the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital as one of the major projects it has been involved in. It stated that the Kingspan Kooltherm K15 rainscreen boards were installed "on a range of façade systems on the external walls" of the 14-storey hospital.

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

The K15 material including pipe insulation covered at least 166,000 square foot of the hospital.

The Scottish Government's directorate for health finance, corporate governance and value has confirmed after being quizzed about K15 that an interim draft report into the use of the materials used in the external walls of the hospital has recommended "intrusive investigations".

The Scottish Tenants Organisation (STO), which has been campaigning for cladding safety in social housing, has raised concerns that no action has been taken to remove the materials at the hospital and other buildings six years on from Grenfell.

They said: "The health board should do more than have a belated detailed investigation by removing K15 insulation that was on Grenfell from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as it is only by its immediate removal that we can ensure the safety of patients, hospital workers and visitors."

Retired Scots architect Robert Menzies who was involved in 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 18m.

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.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said six years ago that Multiplex, the main contractor for the construction provided assurances the material was properly installed and met "Scotland's stringent building and fire safety regulations".

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

Government officials responsible for fire safety in buildings became aware of the use of combustible insulation being used as part of cladding systems on high-rise blocks as far back as 2014, with K15 identified as the principal product, the Grenfell inquiry was told.

The Herald:

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 at the inquiry, said 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 providing the overall cladding system was compliant.

Evidence also emerged that the Kingspan threatened to injunct an industry insurer which 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.

The Herald:

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 could be used in tall buildings.

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

Sean Clerkin, STO campaign co-ordinator 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 made up part of a multi-million pound legal claim which was being pursued by the health board.

The health board is suing the contractor, Multiplex, for £73 million over the construction of the £842m 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 were 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" 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 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 cannot 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 the industry and Government work together to accelerate independent fire risk assessment 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 on buildings where those responsible can’t or won’t pay. We welcome a discussion with the UK Government on this.”