How will fire impact Cancer Research at the Christie?

There is widespread coverage of a large fire that has broken out at a research building attached to The Christie.  The fire started at around 10.35, being brought under control shortly before 1500hrs, although still not extinguished.

The nature of this incident would test even the most developed and well-rehearsed business continuity plan, from both a business recovery and crisis management perspective.  The following gives just a couple of considerations:


This fire highlights the factual inaccuracies that will surround an incident of this nature.  As an example, the Manchester Evening News was reporting at 11.05 that the hospital had been evacuated.  This is not the case, and the hospital has not required evacuation; it is known that the building itself does not house patients, but it is adjoining the hospital.  Some patients have been moved and some treatments have been postponed, and the hospital has released details for patients that are trying to make contact.

The nature of medical research results in a complex relationship between different organisations; in this case, the Manchester Cancer Research Centre was formed between the University of Manchester, Cancer research UK and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust.  It is now the cancer research part of the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC), which is a strategic partnership between the University and six NHS Trusts across Greater Manchester.  There are also a significant number of stakeholders with, for example, a wide-range of funding bodies.  Each of these different organisations will have their own communications needs and priorities, and a coordinated crisis management approach will have to ensure that the different strategic aims and cultural values is taken into account.  More importantly, it is critical that these organisations work together to align behind a single communications message, avoiding contradictions.

Internal communications should also be a priority.  it was interesting to note that one student stated that ‘”I left because I couldn’t bear the smell and it was making me really dizzy, but then I was told there was a fire and we had to leave”, raising a question about methods used to communicate with staff.

Business Continuity and Recovery

At 11.30, clinical and admin staff were reported as having been evacuated and standing on the pavement 50 yards or so away.  It would be interesting to know what the business continuity recovery time objectives (RTO)  are, and whether staff would shortly be directed to work from alternate premises or to go home.  Would alternate arrangements be considered in the case of inclement weather?

In terms of business recovery, it could be difficult to quantify the longer-term effects that this incident could have on research, particularly if samples have been lost.  One student, Nerette Navarro, was quoted as saying, “Either everything is burnt, smoke damaged or water damaged, so everything is lost”.  It is also worth noting that research is particularly difficult to quantify through a standard Business Impact Analysis (BIA) process, particularly for longer term studies.


There will be welfare concerns that need to addressed.  This will apply to patients and their families, who are already under a degree of stress and to staff.  Additionally, there are students who are working to deadlines and have funding restraints will need reassurance.

Lessons Identified

It would be interesting to note if the MAHSC and The Christie were able to share any of the lessons learned from the fire at the Royal Marsden Hospital or other similar incidents at research, university or hospital sites.  Equally, will MAHSC and The Christie share their lessons from this incident?

Contact Cambridge Risk Solutions to find how we can help you with business continuity and crisis management planning,  Call us on 0800 035 1231.

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