Northern Ireland

Altnagelvin Hospital is safe to use says health minister, Edwin Poots

Scene at Altnagelvin
Image caption The fire broke out at Altnagelvin Hospital on Friday night

A Londonderry hospital, where two fires have broken out in just over a fortnight, is safe to use, the health minister Edwin Poots has said.

Seven wards at Altnagelvin Hospital were evacuated on Friday night after a fire started on the roof.

The cause is under investigation, but Barry McDowell from the fire service said it appears it was accidental.

Mr Poots said he did not believe the fire was caused by anything involving the fabric of the building.

"I wouldn't want people to become frightened or afraid of actually using the facility.

"An investigation is being carried out, and I wouldn't want to prejudge it, but the fire service are following a particular lead and I would be fairly confident that it will be proved that it was not the fabric of the building that was the problem.

"This building isn't sitting with faulty wiring which is causing fires in it - that isn't the case."

Mr Poots was responding to concerns raised by SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey, who has called for an immediate inspection.

Mr Ramsey also claimed repeated warnings about health and safety at the building may not have been acted upon.

"It is imperative, absolutely essential, that the department of health or other bodies who have a jurisdiction in this - health and safety - carry out an inspection of the tower block as it is commonly known," he said.

The SDLP representative said the checks were necessary so that patients and staff returning to the hospital after the evacuation could have "confidence that it is a safe building to be in".

The hospital's director of acute services, Geraldine Hillick, said the facility was considered to be safe.

"If we deemed the area unsafe for patients we wouldn't have been using it, so from our point of view the wards were safe for the patients to be cared for in," she said.

Fire service district commander Barry McDowell said the cause of the fire was under investigation, but it appeared to have started accidentally in a plant room on the roof.

"We believe a water pipe melted, and a lot of water then started coming down through the hospital," he said.

Up to 120 patients had to be moved from the affected wards on Friday night.

In a statement on Monday, the Western Trust said 23 planned in-patient and day cases went ahead at the hospital, but 33 were postponed.

Eighteen procedures due to take place on Tuesday 27 November have been postponed but the rest will go ahead as scheduled.

The trust said five out of the seven wards evacuated on Friday evening following the fire are now operating normally.

It is reviewing the future use of wards 8, 9 and 10 and patients from those wards will continue to be cared for in other parts of the hospital.

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