The neo-natal unit at a Northern Ireland hospital has been forced to close after bats were found on the premises.
The Erne Hospital in Enniskillen has closed the unit until the bats are removed. One baby, being cared for in the unit, has been moved to another section of the maternity department.
Staff from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) removed two Pipistrelle bats — which are not harmful to humans — from the grill of a strip light in the hospital.
However, a spokesman said it could not confirm the presence of any bat roosts in the unit. If bats are found to be roosting this could delay re-opening the unit because as a protected species, bats cannot be disturbed in the breeding season. In Northern Ireland, most resident bats breed through June and July.
According to the Department of the Environment (DOE) staff based at nearby Castle Archdale have been called out to investigate bats at the hospital “on a number of occasions”.
The neo-natal unit has capacity for six babies but only one baby was being nursed there at the time. The Western Health Trust confirmed that the unit had been closed due to bats and it is examining how they entered the ward.
It is understood the bats could have entered the hospital through an open window.
“Bats have been seen within the neonatal unit of Erne Hospital in recent days,” a Trust spokesman said in a statement. “The area has been vacated and relocated to another part of the maternity unit so babies would not be at risk and to allow for thorough inspection and cleaning.
“The Trust is aware that bats are a protected species. Staff from the Trust’s Support Services have engaged with a representative of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for advice in relation to the removal and release of the bats.”
A Trust spokesman said it hoped to re-open the unit “in the next 24 to 48 hours”.
A DOE spokesman said staff had “liaised with the maintenance staff of the hospital to try to find the access points but found no holes big enough to admit a bat”.
Northern Ireland is home to eight of Ireland’s nine bat species. All are small, shy, insect-eaters. It is illegal to harm bats or their nests. The common Pipistrelle (above) is the most numerous here. They have a reddish, dark brown fur and roost in houses and tree holes, hibernating in winter. Only the vampire bat from South America drinks blood.