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Of fire regulations in our nursing and residential homes

11-Apr-10
Article By: Richard Howard

Political pledges and major party disagreements over the long-term provision of all areas of elderly care might suggest that the well-being of our ageing population has its rightful place as a key issue our society has to find solutions for over the next few years and, probably, decades – but if this is the case then why do care regulations, particularly in England and Wales, appear to be lacking compared to other nations?

The Care Quality Commission was recently formed as a rejuvenated form of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, with the responsibility of regulating care providers and ensuring a high quality of service is adhered to but, though it may be that inspectors are now better positioned to protect the health and lifestyles of service users, many health professionals cannot help but point out the areas of the industry that, in sharp contrast to CQC’s remit, receive hardly any regulation at all.

Two notable examples the care sector continues to question are why temporary agency workers have hardly any regulation within the industry – an industry far more reliant than others on the use of agency staff; while also being dismayed over the failure to successfully manage dementia care funds, millions of pounds of which seems to have gone missing from primary care trusts. Similarly, a less publicised factor, though one that families who have relatives in residential or nursing homes might wish to be aware of, is the lack of installation of sprinkler systems as a vital safety measure in the event of a fire.

Those who attended month’s annual Care Show, at the Bournemouth International Centre, will have had the chance to attend a talk hosted by Peter Armstrong of bafsa and Nick Troth of Arup Fire (who also collaborated on the recent publication ‘Sprinklers for Safer Living’), during which Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Nigel Williams, gave an impassioned plea to care industry providers to see the value in sprinkler systems as being a proven life saver. In the current climate, however, though some providers may indeed recognise the value – especially in light of the tragedy at Rosepark Care Home in Lanarkshire where 14 people died in 2004 – it is hard to resist pointing out that in Scotland, as in the USA and many other advanced, and less-advanced countries, around the world, the installation of sprinklers is a necessity to anyone who wants to run a care facility.

It is not difficult to recognise how effective well-maintained sprinkler systems can be in saving lives when we consider that there has never been a multiple-death incident in a building that had one fitted. Sprinklers prevent fire spreading by suppressing temperatures in the room where the outbreak has occurred, reducing the problems firefighters have to tackle when attending blazes and, with hindsight, showing that residents in neighbouring rooms who may have been evacuated as a precaution would have been saved anyway.

The multiple errors revealed in the still ongoing trial into the 14 deaths at Rosepark Care Home highlighted extensive flaws in the running of the facility that need to be treated seriously and learned from. Fire doors were not properly maintained and firefighters not significantly informed of the extent of the situation they faced. Even these faults, however, would not have stopped a sprinkler system doing its job had one been in place; Arup Fire’s studies show irrefutably that a sprinkler system would have saved lives on that tragic day.

Healthcare and the needs of the elderly are now seen as a major political issue, being a key part of election manifestos as the country braces itself for an elderly population boom. Perhaps party leaders should consider implementing new regulations concerning sprinkler systems if they truly have the welfare of the elderly in mind.

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