• First group of trusts prioritised for support, based on their plans to ramp up critical care “surge” capacity 
  • comes amid increasing concerns over oxygen supplies

Several NHS trusts in London will get engineering support to increase their oxygen supplies, amid concerns that hospitals are running short of medical gases.

An email to providers in the capital, seen by HSJ, said a first group of trusts had been prioritised for support, based on their plans to ramp up critical care “surge” capacity in response to coronavirus.

The email says the support will enable 304 additional beds at St Thomas Hospital, 300 at St George’s, 180 at the Royal London (Barts Health), 160 at the Royal Brompton; 161 at King’s College Hospital; and 100 at the Royal Free Hospital.

The email, sent by the London Estates Delivery Unit on Friday, said: “In order to undertake this prioritisation, we reconciled the proposed works with the number of additional [ventilators] those works could enable, allowing for a distribution of works across each London STP.

“We will undertake further rounds of clinical prioritisation to enable additional sites to receive engineering support when this first wave of works is completed….

“We recognise that several sites are already operating at high levels of oxygen demand on their piped medical gas systems.”

The LEDU is hosted by the Greater London Authority but has a focus on supporting and developing the NHS estate.

It comes amid increasing concerns over oxygen supplies, which are needed for ventilation machines to support covid-19 patients needing critical care.

On Saturday, West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust urged the public not to attend Watford General Hospital’s emergency department due to a “technical issue” with its oxygen equipment.

The trust declared a critical incident that morning and told people to visit the next nearest hospital with an emergency department.

There were also reports last week of an unnamed London teaching hospital almost running out of oxygen for its covid-19 patients.

This incident appears to have resulted in an urgent alert being sent to senior trust leaders, warning that demand levels risked a rapid pressure drop in oxygen supply pipes, which could lead to a failure of oxygen delivery systems.

The notice added: “These issues are not normally a consideration for hospitals, as the majority of patients are on no oxygen or low-flow. However, during the coronavirus epidemic, a far greater proportion of patients will require O2 therapy and ventilation, and this presents a clear and significant risk to oxygen delivery systems within hospital estates.”

In the government’s daily press conference, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the “quantity and supply of oxygen is something we’ve been working very hard on and we have a very high degree of confidence in the supply.”

Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said the “alerts” demonstrated a strength in the system, because it meant problems of supply were flagged “before they become a problem” and could be dealt with.