A new report, published by the Healthcare Safety Investigation branch (HSIB) , stated “excessive” demands on oxygen delivery systems in hospitals during the pandemic’s second wave led to a “major disruption”, forcing patients to be diverted to other hospitals and elective surgery being cancelled during the autumn of 2020.
It added the issues were with the ability of the medical gas pipeline systems (MGPS) delivering the amount of oxygen patients needed, rather than access to the supply of oxygen.
The HSIB suggested three ways to improve things for the future including prioritising funding and the maintenance needed to improve the infrastructure within oxygen delivery, updating the systems and technical documents to reflect the latest developments in healthcare and establish a unit within a trust where oxygen delivery can be planned more effectively.
During its investigation, the HSIB found some hospitals using a “multidisciplinary approach” to try to plan the use of piped oxygen supply – such as how it was affecting different wards – were able to respond better to increased demand.
Dr Stephen Drage, director of investigations at the HSIB, said: “Our investigation highlighted just how critical the MGPS is and that if it fails the impact is significant.
“Any uneven demand in the pipework could mean that a concentration of oxygen in one area – for example to Covid-19 patients – could lead to a reduction elsewhere.
“Patient wellbeing can be at further risk as may have to make tough decisions about prioritisation of care to ensure that sufficient oxygen is distributed across the hospital.”
He said the report’s findings could “help to inform future responses to Covid-19 or other respiratory viruses”.
An interim report published by the HSIB in January urged trusts to check if there were any “limitations” in their oxygen delivery systems.
It came after one London hospital trust declared a major incident after identifying problems with its oxygen supply.
Two patients from a high dependency unit (HDU) were found to have lower than expected blood oxygen levels and were moved to operating theatres where the oxygen supply was guaranteed.