THE Health Service Executive has had to fork out thousands of euro to pay for call-outs of the fire brigade in response to a faulty alarm at an empty psychiatric hospital.
The HSE has admitted it has paid more than €30,000 this year alone to the fire service to cover the costs of call-outs to St Finan's Hospital in Killarney, Co Kerry.
The patients at the three-storey hospital have already been moved to alternative accommodation.
But the building – which dates back to the 1850s and once had 1,000
patients – continues to house some administrative staff and South Doc, the out-of-hours doctors service for Killarney and east Kerry.
According to a source, dampness in the almost-vacant building is causing the faulty alarm system to trip.
This directly alerts the fire brigade, which then responds to the call. Kerry County Council then charges the HSE to cover the cost of the call-out, which is around €500 each time. So far this year, the fire service has responded to 62 calls.
The source said that while the building was still in use as a hospital, staff were on hand to check if the alarm had been sparked by a real emergency and were able to reset the system, averting the need for the fire brigade to respond.
"It sometimes used to happen around two or three times a day and then it might not happen again for another few weeks," said the source, who added that the problem had been compounded by dampness in the old building since the heating was turned off.
The last patients at the imposing building – which is set on 30 acres overlooking Fitzgerald Stadium – were evacuated in September of last year.
The HSE says the fire alarm service in St Finan's covers the entire three-storey building and is being monitored by an alarm company.
In the event of the alarm being activated, this alerts Kerry County Council's fire service, which is called to the scene.
The HSE said this was to ensure the safety of its staff and South Doc's administrative staff, who still occupy the building. But once these have vacated the building a new alarm system will be put in place that will "reflect the status of the building".
Area manager Michael Fitzgerald said that although the alarm was problematic, this was a cheaper option than upgrading the system.
He added: "When the building is totally closed shortly, we will put in a cordoned security system and the fire alarm won't be as sensitive."