A FIRE at a Southampton secure mental health unit that saw 30 patients evacuated as firefighters from across the city tackled the blaze was started deliberately, the Daily Echo can reveal.

A witness claims that it was a female patient who started the blaze in one of the bedrooms of Antelope House, having gained access to an aerosol and smuggled in a lighter.

It is claimed she set light to a pile of bed linen in the corner of a bedroom on Trinity Ward, using the items, which are banned on the wards unless used under supervision.

It is understood the patient had convinced a nurse to unlock the spray can and allow her to use it privately in a room.

Last night police confirmed that a 36-year-old woman from Fareham was helping police with their enquiries as they try to piece together the sequence of events that led to the blaze in one of the hospital’s bedrooms.

A joint investigation by the police and fire service was carried out yesterday and concluded the fire was “most likely” caused deliberately.

As reported, 30 patients were evacuated safely, with four treated for smoke inhalation and one woman taken to hospital, after the fire broke out just after 7pm on Wednesday.

Bosses at Southern Health today praised staff for getting everyone safely away from the fire and are now working with police to find out exactly what caused the fire and how a patient came to have access to a lighter and aerosol.

They would not confirm the claims, but would say the fire was not a result of a fault within the building.

Dr Lesley Stevens, Southern Health’s clinical director for mental health, said: “I’d like to thank staff and our colleagues from the emergency services for their fast and effective action to keep everyone safe.”

The fire comes as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has lifted the warning notice which was previously issued on Antelope House, after inspectors raised concerns over the care of vulnerable patients.

On their most recent inspection of the unit, the CQC recognised a number of improvements had been made regarding patient welfare and medicine records since their damning report highlighted several problem areas.

The trust had been told to take immediate action after they found that drugs were “not always handled appropriately” while staff “did not always ensure that medicines were safely administered”.

Dr Stevens said: “There is still more to be done at Antelope House and we are now recruiting even more staff and continuing to develop the way we work to provide the best possible care.

“It can be challenging to hear criticism but staff have been phenomenal and pulled out all the stops to make improvements.”