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False fire alarms set off more than once a fortnight at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust last year

By Harriet Clugston, data reporter

The number of false fire alarms at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust has increased amid concerns about the added strain on the service and firefighter resources.

Figures from NHS Digital show there were 39 false alarms in the 12 months to March - the equivalent of more than once a fortnight.

According to the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, false alarms are a growing problem, costing “thousands of staff hours”.

Darent Valley Hospital
Darent Valley Hospital

Repeated incidents can also pose a risk to safety by causing complacency towards what could be genuine alarms, it said.

The number of alarms at the trust has increased by 26% in five years.

Firefighters did not attend any of the false alarm incidents in 2017-18.

The NFCC’s Paul McCourt warns the increase is having an impact on NHS services.

“False fire alarm activations cause huge problems for the NHS and the fire and rescue service,” he said.

“Every year thousands of staff hours are lost due to false alarms and Unwanted Fire Signals.

“This affects both fire and health service delivery, business continuity and patient care.”

"False fire alarms are not only disruptive for staff and patients, but also pose a risk to their safety..." - Sara Gorton, UNISON

Across England, the number of times firefighters were called to false alarms at NHS trusts rose by 8% last year from 6,533 in 2016-17 to 7,065 in 2017-18.

False alarms in the NHS overall have risen by 12% in five years.

The majority of alarms are caused by automatic systems, which may summon the fire service as soon as they activate.

Most are caused by faulty, damaged or badly maintained systems, or things such as burnt toast, steam or dust.

A doctor in a hospital. Stock image.
A doctor in a hospital. Stock image.

Sara Gorton, of the health workers’ union UNISON, said it was “yet another example” of underfunding in the NHS.

“False fire alarms are not only disruptive for staff and patients, but also pose a risk to their safety,” she said.

“It’s time the government acted to address the rising backlog of repairs affecting trusts.”

Since 2011 fire services have the power to charge non-domestic premises - including NHS sites - if they are persistently called to false alarms because of faulty automatic fire alarms.

Mr McCourt continued: “NFCC asks that local NHS organisations contact and work directly with their local fire and rescue services who are able to help and advise on how best to address the growing problem of false alarms and unwanted fire signals.

“By working together on the management and maintenance of fire alarm systems we can deliver the best possible services to the public without increasing costs or down time.”

An NHS Improvement spokesman says action is being taken to deal with the problem.

She said: “All NHS hospitals take fire safety seriously.

“This includes following national fire safety regulations which require them to maintain their automatic fire detection systems.

“We would expect all NHS trusts to put measures in place to minimise the number of false fire alarms, while ensuring the safety of patients and staff.”

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