Taiwan hospital arson suspect 'upset over illness'

image source, AFP
image caption, The arson suspect is escorted by an officer at Hsuea Chia police station

A man suspected of causing a deadly fire in Taiwan says he was upset over his serious illness, according to prosecutors.

The 67-year-old man, identified by his surname Lin, confessed to setting fire to a hospital in the southern city of Tainan, prosecutor Tseng Chao-kai said.

Mr Lin, who was a cancer patient at the hospital, was arrested on Tuesday.

The blaze, which started on the second floor in the early hours of Tuesday, killed 12 and injured 60.

The suspect told authorities that he lit tissue papers and threw them into a room of clothes, Mr Tseng said.

Footage from security cameras showed a naked man running away from the fire at the hospital that housed patients with serious chronic illnesses or mental health problems.

He was later found hiding in a storage facility, Mr Tseng added.

'Inadequate staffing'

A hospital official said the victims died of smoke inhalation.

More than 100 patients, the majority of whom were on respirators and unable to move on their own, were in the building when the fire broke out, officials said.

A fire department officer told the BBC that the discovery of the fire and subsequent evacuation were delayed by the small number of staff on shift at the time.

Although the Sinying hospital's Beimen branch had a working sprinkler system, officials said they were investigating the number of working smoke detectors and fire exits.

Healthcare reform campaigners and local media have blamed inadequate staffing for the loss of life, says the BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei.

More than 30 fire engines were sent to the blaze, which was put out by 04:16 local time (20:16 GMT), just over 45 minutes after it was reported, officials said.

The fire is believed to be one of deadliest at a Taiwanese hospital and one of the most serious on the island in recent years.

The authorities have responded by launching a fire safety standards inspection of more than 1,100 hospitals and care facilities in the country.

"The interior ministry will require all medical facilities to follow fire regulations and enhance fire drills so they can learn a lesson from the Beimen hospital fire," said Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan.

Hospitals and care homes in Taiwan suffer from serious staff shortages and often force employees to work overtime without pay, our correspondent says.

Staffing is seen as a growing concern because of Taiwan's rapidly aging population and increasing need for nursing home care.

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