Four Altnagelvin fires were among ‘major incidents’

Emergency services attend a fire at Altnagelvin Hospital. (2411Sl11) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Emergency services attend a fire at Altnagelvin Hospital. (2411Sl11) Photo: Stephen Latimer

Four fires at Altnagelvin were among ten ‘major incidents’ declared by health authorities in Northern Ireland over the past five years and 70 per cent of such incidents were declared here, the Health Minister Simon Hamilton has revealed.

Fires at the local hospital were a recurring problem over the past number of years, in some cases prompting evacuations and resulting in the cancellation of appointments.

The first fire incident was recorded on December 2, 2011.

This was followed by a major fire in the Altnagelvin Tower Block on November 23, 2012, which occurred just three months after this paper reported how the Health Estates Investment Group (HEIG) believed staff and patients at Altnagelvin faced a “very significant risk of death or injury” due to inadequate fire precautions at the same block.

A year later, on November 18, 2013 a water tank and its associated insulation in the hospital overheated activating a fire alarm. And on November 27, 2014, there was another ‘major incident’ declared with a fire reported in the sluice room - where bed pans, sick bowls and laundry is dealt with - of Ward 5.

Three other non-fire related ‘major incidents’ were also declared at the Western Trust between 2010/11 and 2014/15. Between July 26 and August 19, 2013, Altnagelvin stepped up to the plate to assist the Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive following a flooding incident at Letterkenny Hospital. ‘Major incidents’ were also declared at Enniskillen and Altnagelvin following serious road traffic accidents with multiple casualties on November 1, 2013, and January 8, 2014, respectively.

The three other ‘major incidents’ were declared following emergencies in the Northern and Belfast trusts. On March 11, 2013, the Causeway Hospital experienced difficulty maintaining emergency department services. Extra staff were also called in to deal with an increased volume of patients presenting to the emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital on January 8, 2014, whilst a few days earlier - on December 30, 2013 - a multiple stabbing incident resulted in a major incident being declared at the same hospital.

Mr Hamilton said the incidents were all declared by the responsible Health and Social Care Trusts rather than by the emergency services.

In relation to fire risk the HEIG report of 2012 referred to earlier found old electrical cables and non-compliance with fire codes were known to have been a problem at Altnagelvin for over a decade. Fire risk was explicitly acknowledged as long ago as 2001 when a report found non-adherence to fire codes and standards for existing hospitals.