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Ipswich: I had no fire training – former mental health worker blasts trust after damning report into blaze

PUBLISHED: 13:00 04 January 2013

Woodlands unit on the Ipswich Hospital site, where a fire broke out in a patient's room in October 2011

Woodlands unit on the Ipswich Hospital site, where a fire broke out in a patient's room in October 2011

A former worker today claimed during his 20 years at the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership (SMHPT) he never once received fire training.

It comes following an investigation into a fire at the Woodlands unit, on the same site as Ipswich Hospital, three months after it opened, in October 2011.

The report revealed mental health staff ignored a fire alarm eight times as a patient lay unconscious after setting light to the bed with a cigarette lighter.

In a damning report, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) found there were “systemic failings in the organisation and management” of SMHPT – which merged with Norfolk and Waveney in January last year to become the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Among the failings identified by SFRS was a failure to provide adequate fire safety training for staff.

The former employee, who retired from SMHPT around four years ago and asked not to be named, said he was “not surprised” at news of the blaze.

“It is just a nonsense,” he said. “In the 20 years I worked at the trust I never had a fire drill. They didn’t happen.”

He said in his previous job he had experienced a big fire at work and so the stark contrast in fire training had concerned him.

He added: “I’m not surprised at what happened. In my opinion you need even more rigorous fire policies with mental health patients, because of their complex needs.”

Commercial director at NSFT Leigh Flemming said: “It is difficult for us to comment on anonymous allegations in the press. The trust does have a robust whistleblowing procedure, whereby staff with any concerns can contact us so that we can act on issues.”

Maggie Wheeler, chair of NSFT added: “We recognise that any shortcomings were due to an organisational failure, which left our hard-working staff not provided with the skills to deal with this incident.

“Between the fire and now, the new mental health trust NSFT has raised fire training compliance at Woodlands to 98 per cent and this will further rise to 99.6pc later this month. Fire training is mandatory for all staff.”

n What do you think? E-mail health reporter lizzie.parry@archant.co.uk

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