Concern Nottinghamshire fire service plan to stop attending automatic hospital alarms could put lives at risk

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Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s plan to stop responding to some automatic hospital fire alarms has been met with fears lives may be lost.

The service automatically goes to fire alarm activations for buildings including hospitals, nursing homes, sheltered housing, flats and heritage sites, but wants to stop attending some calls because the majority are false alarms, which cost money and resources at a time when budgets are under pressure.

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Hospitals across the county account for 10 per cent of all “unwanted fire signals”, including incidents such as problems with light fittings, microwaves and overheated fans.

Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust runs King's Mill Hospital in Sutton.Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust runs King's Mill Hospital in Sutton.
Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust runs King's Mill Hospital in Sutton.

However, concerns were raised over the plans at the latest meeting of the Fire Authority Community Safety panel, a body of councillors and fire officers which monitors NFRS performance and spending.

After raising concerns about the plan, councillors agreed to support a consultation with the hospitals before it goes any further.

The service says it will save about £300 for every false alarm it does not attend, while the hospitals – including Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Sutton’s King’s Mill and Mansfield Community hospitals – said in a joint statement they have “well-tested plans in place” to deal with incidents.

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Mark Stilwell, Fire Brigates’ Union regional chairman, told the meeting the consequences “could be devastating” if the service did not attend automatic alarms immediately.

He said: “There is very little to no financial savings in making these changes.

“Is the fire service prepared to risk the lives of the public just to reduce the number of turnouts?”

Between April and September 2022 there were 143 call outs to King’s Mill and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust’s Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.

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Of these, only 3.5 per cent were found to be fires, none of which had spread.

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Coun Johno Lee said: “We need to go away for further consultation with the hospitals.

“We had a serious fire at the Nottinghamshire Council offices and nearly lost that building.

“If it wasn’t for the fire engines coming out as quickly as they did, we could’ve lost that building and maybe lost lives.

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“If we are not going to go straight out, then extra minutes could be somebody dying.

“At the moment I’m uncomfortable doing anything before in-depth conversations.”

Coun Nick Raine said: “The NHS is hugely underfunded at the moment and people are run off their feet.

“This is potentially the worst time to be doing this.

“If £300 means a question of life or death, I’m uneasy about it.”

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Coun Jason Zadrozny, meeting chairman and Ashfield Council leader, read a statement on behalf of NFRS, which said: “Attendance at false alarms places a significant impact on resources, diverting valuable time from other preventing, protecting and responding activities.”

SFH and NUH said: “We have well-tested plans in place to deal with a range of incidents and eventualities to ensure patients can continue to access the treatment they need safely.

“We are committed to working alongside Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service to fully understand the impact of these proposals and to find a resolution that ensures the safety of the patients and the public.”