Patients faced ‘risk of death’: report revealed

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Staff and patients at Altnagelvin faced a “very significant risk of death or injury” due to inadequate fire precautions at the hospital’s main Tower Block, according to a report published more than a year ago.

The Health Estates Investment Group (HEIG) review - released in July 2011 - referred to an earlier report which concluded that non-compliance with fire codes at Altnagelvin meant a higher risk of fire spreading in the hospital.

This same report warned that deteriorated Vulcanised India Rubber (VIR) covering to electrical wiring used throughout the building added to the general fire risk.

The HEIG report - issued in the summer of 2011 - reveals that the fire risk at Altnagelvin was explicitly acknowledged as long ago as 2001 when a report found non-adherence to fire codes and standards for existing hospitals.

And, a review in 2007, found that there was “a very significant risk of death or injury in the advent of fire to staff and patients using the Altnagelvin Tower due to inadequate fire precautions”.

The 2007 report went on: “The problem is accentuated by raised fire risk associated with the deterioration of VIR covering to electrical wiring used throughout the building and the potential for any fire outbreak to spread along services routes, ducts etc.”

The authors of the 2007 review also warned that some of the bed wards in the Ward Wing contained more than 30 patients and that, if a fire broke out in the central core, most patients would have to be evacuated via a staircase.

“Depending on the mobility of the patient and the intensity of the fire, this could be an extremely difficult and hazardous task for nurses/staff on duty at the time and who may themselves be suffering from the effects of smoke,” said the report. “The problem could be worse at night when there are less staff on duty.

“While it is hoped that the fire brigade will arrive quickly and bring any fire under control, there is still the possibility that the fire could spread to other floors affecting many more patients and staff who may be located higher up the building and with potentially dire consequences,” the report revealed.

In spite of some improvements, the report said further work was required to make the hospital safe.

“Assessing risk levels across the Trust points to the Altnagelvin Hospital Tower Block as presenting the highest current residual risk in terms of health and life safety,” the 2011 report concluded.

“Altnagelvin Hospital has undergone substantial - yet still only partial - redevelopment in recent years, which has reduced some estate related risks. Many fire safety risks identified withing the Tower Block have yet to be addressed.

“The fire stairs currently under construction will help mitigate some of the risk associated with evacuation but the does not address the risk presented by VIR cabling throughout the building.”

In August of this year, the Western Health Trust acknowleged it was necessary to undertake investment in existing Tower Block infrastructure.

A spokesperson said; “Significant investment of over £5m has been made over the past two years for provisions for fire safety, including provision of a Tower Fire Lift, the relocation of service/maintenace areas and replacement and upgrading of plant facilities. The Trust has recently received further allocations of more than £2.5m and plans further infrastructural improvements to the Tower Block.”