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Ipswich: Health trust should take responsibility over fire, says MP

09:00 21 December 2012

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

AN IPSWICH MP has today blasted mental health chiefs for not taking full responsibility after staff ignored a fire alarm eight times as a patient lay unconscious in a smoke-filled room.

Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich told the Star the situation surrounding the bedroom blaze – started by an inpatient using a cigarette lighter at Woodlands unit in October last year – is “completely unacceptable”.

When firefighters arrived at Woodlands on the Ipswich Hospital site at Heath Road, they had to force their way through locked fire doors to reach the young patient dragging them from the room to resuscitate them.

Revealing a damning report, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service’s (SFRS) chief officer Andy Fry told The Star the investigation catalogues a “series of failings at many levels of the organisation and management which led to a vulnerable person being seriously injured”.

He added: “It is extremely fortunate that the patient involved did not lose their life.”

Among the failings identified were:

n A failure to provide adequate fire safety training for staff at the Woodlands unit

n No safety drills had been carried out since the unit had been opened and occupied

n A previously issued ‘Notice of Deficiencies’ had not been fully addressed

SFRS concluded they have enough evidence to take the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust (SMHPT) to court, prosecuting them for a range of offences.

But due to the merger of the SMHPT with the Norfolk and Waveney trust on January 1 this year, the body no longer exists.

A gap in the law and the way the transfer was handled by the Department of Health means the newly established Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) cannot be held criminally responsible.

Mr Gummer said he has written to chief executive of NSFT Aidan Thomas – who was acting interim chief executive of SMHPT at the time of the fire on October 26, 2011 – to raise his concerns.

Four members of the SMHPT board in October 2011 – including Mr Thomas – hold board or senior management positions at NSFT.

“The whole situation is completely unacceptable,” he said.

“Whoever at the Department of Health has been drawing up these contracts has really mucked things up here, meaning criminal liability can’t be transferred over.

“Even if the mental health trust can’t be held criminally liable as a matter of honour it should assume that liability and accept responsibility rather than blaming it on the “old” trust.

“The trust has taken over all the former trust’s assets and should accept their liabilities too.

“I don’t accept this was an “old” trust, many key members are still working for the NSFT.

“It is absolutely outrageous, if this happened in the private sector people would simply not accept it.

“My constituents lives were put at risk and someone needs to take proper responsibility for it.”

Maggie Wheeler, chair of NSFT, said: “Legal aspects aside, and those issues are out of our hands, the important thing to concentrate on here is making sure each of the remedial actions identified by the fire service is carried out to their satisfaction. Both they and we now have confidence this is the case.

Health minister and Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter said: “It is clear the quality of care provided at Woodlands both before and during the fire was not up to the standards expected.

“The Department of Health immediately put in place protocols to ensure this [not transferring criminal liability during a merger] does not happen again.

“The responsible ministers are looking into what happened.”

What are your experiences of the mental health trust? Write to health reporter Lizzie Parry at Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

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