Patients had to be evacuated from a ward at the new Central Mental Hospital in Portrane when the underfloor heating, extraction fans and hot water stopped working just months after the €220 million facility opened.

It took nearly 10 weeks to fix the problem, during which time the patients on the female ward had to be accommodated elsewhere in the high-security hospital, newly released records reveal.

It’s the latest evidence of problems with the heating system at the facility after it was reported earlier this year that patients were being forced to sleep in their clothes and wear jackets inside due to cold temperatures.

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Staff formally raised concerns about "extreme cold" at the hospital 25 times in the space of 33 days after it officially opened in November 2022, and 30 times in the first three-and-a-half months of this year.

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) also wrote to management in April regarding issues with the heating system at the state-of-the-art facility, where around two-thirds of the patients have been found not guilty of crimes for reason of insanity, or have been deemed unfit to stand trial.

The latest problem occurred in the female unit, where underfloor heating, extraction fans, hot water and all plumbing-related equipment stopped working in March, according to records released under freedom of information laws.

The issue was investigated and water was found to be "egressing" from the motor control centre panel. It transpired that rainwater had damaged plant controllers responsible for all mechanical systems.

"We determined that damage caused by the water to the electrical and mechanical systems was significant and outside the scope of [our] maintenance team," the hospital said in a letter to the MHC.

External contractors including architects were called and it was determined that the delivery of parts, the installation of software, and the testing of the system would take up to eight weeks.

However, the evacuated patients were unable to return to the ward until May 15 – almost 10 weeks later.

In its correspondence to the management of the National Forensic Mental Health Service (NFMHS) regarding the issue, the MHC also referred to unsolicited information it had received regarding "further potential issues with heating systems".

Internal records show that Patrick Bergin, the head of the NFMHS, raised such concerns himself with the maintenance manager of the facility as early as last November.

He said patients in Blooms – the female unit – had had to wear extra clothing "to keep themselves warm" because the temperature had been 16C during the previous night.

On its own website, the Health Service Executive (HSE) warns the public that "if the temperature falls below 16C, you could be at risk of hypothermia".

The records also show that the temperature in one part of the hospital was mistakenly set to 15C at night instead of 21C on another occasion.

A spokesperson for the HSE said the NFMHS has not experienced any ongoing issues with the heating system. "The NFMHS has replied to the [MHC] to confirm the heating system is operating as it should," she added.

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