Cigarette probe in wake of Western General fire

The Western General. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The Western General. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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INVESTIGATIONS into a fire which killed an elderly patient at Western General Hospital are focusing on whether a cigarette sparked the deadly blaze.

Crews were called to the Royal Victoria Building at about 2.30am yesterday where they discovered oxygen equipment alight in a private room.

Medics and firefighters battled to save the 75-year-old woman – found on a bed inside the room – but she died at the scene.

Insiders said the patient, who is thought to have succumbed to the smoke, was being treated for terminal cancer.

Preliminary tests by police and fire investigators are yet to determine an exact cause but it is understood faulty equipment was not to blame.

A source said: “The main focus has been on whether the fire started with a cigarette.

“From what I’ve heard, she was tragically in hospital because she had terminal cancer care and was not expected to recover. I don’t know if she just decided to have a cigarette in her room but it seems like a very sad set of circumstances.”

Emergency services and NHS staff were alerted after a fire alarm automatically triggered on the ground floor ward.

Another 14 elderly patients were evacuated as a precaution from a neighbouring ward as crews from Crewe Toll, 
Tollcross and McDonald Road spent more than two hours working to contain the blaze.

Relatives of other patients at the Western General took to social networking sites to express relief for loved ones.

Emily Halcro tweeted: “I can’t believe my gran was at the wing that was on fire at the Western General Hospital, I’m just glad she’s okay.

“RIP to the person that unfortunately didn’t make it because of the fire.”

The Fire Investigation Unit and Police Scotland are continuing to probe the circumstances leading up to the incident.

David Lockhart, group officer for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said the swift response had prevented further tragedy.

“It is very tragic that someone has lost their life but had that alarm not been raised, it may have been much worse,” he said.

“Our sympathies go to her family. We would also like to give some reassurance to the public as I am sure there will be people with family in hospital who will be a wee bit concerned hearing about this. Fires like this in healthcare premises are very rare and it’s a very tragic set of circumstances.

“The exact cause of ignition is still to be identified but it is not believed that any of the equipment in the room was the cause of the fire.”

Melanie Johnson, director of unscheduled care for NHS Lothian, said the health board was continuing to assist with the inquiry.

“Staff responded quickly and followed well-rehearsed protocols,” she said. “A small number of patients were transferred temporarily to an adjoining ward before returning after around an hour.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Investigations are at an early stage following the death of a 75-year-old woman at the Western General Hospital.”