HC Deb 25 February 1971 vol 812 cc847-8
Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, if he will make a statement on the fire at Exe Vale Hospital, Exminster on Wednesday, 24th February.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

I regret to inform the House that a fire occurred at the Exe Vale Hospital in the early morning of 23rd February, 1971. It was in a ground floor side ward occupied by six patients. The fire was discovered at 12.53 a.m. and the alarm was given. Staff responded immediately, evacuated the patients and extinguished the fire before the arrival of the fire brigade.

Five patients and one member of the staff were injured and taken to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. One of the patients has since died, two others are receiving treatment for burns, a fourth has already returned to Exe Vale Hospital and the other is expected to return today. The member of the staff has also left hospital.

I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the relatives of the patient who died and to pay tribute to the efforts of the staff in dealing with the fire. An investigation into the circumstances is taking place.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that statement and I naturally wish to associate myself with his expression of sympathy.

Will he bear in mind that this occurrence underlines once again the importance of maintaining the full establishment of staff at mental hospitals, particularly during the night? We would all wish to pay tribute to the prompt action which was taken by the staff who were on duty at the time, so preventing an even worse disaster from happening.

Sir K. Joseph

I accept my hon. Friend's implication.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we fully share the sympathy which he expressed to the relatives of the patient who died in this unfortunate incident and endorse the tribute he paid to the staff who had to deal with this fire? While it is too early for him to make any further comment, can he say who will be conducting the investigation and when the report is expected?

Sir K. Joseph

I cannot give a firm answer to either part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. At present the hospital management committee and the local fire authority are studying the incident, but the regional hospital board may itself decide to have an inquiry; and, of course, the coroner is involved since there will be an inquest.

Sir F. Bennett

As the hon. Member whose constituent was the only individual to die in this unhappy affair, may I be associated with the sympathetic remarks made by my right hon. Friend? To be fair to the hospital, is it not a fact that comparatively recently an inspection was carried out by the fire authorities, when everything was found to be satisfactory?

Sir K. Joseph

I understand that the staff responded immediately to the alarm and that so far—though I have not yet got all the information that I would wish to have—the arrangements are thought to have gone well.