• Southend Hospital has introduced patient oxygen saturation targets lower than recommend by NHS safety guidance
  • CQC says it is “closely monitoring” trust to ensure hospital keeping patients “safe” during “deviation” from guidelines
  • Regulator, NHSE, and trust have not disclosed how long “temporary” measures will be in place

The Care Quality Commission is “closely monitoring” a covid-challenged trust over fears for patient safety sparked by oxygen rationing.

The regulator confirmed to HSJ it has contacted Southend Hospital — part of Mid and South Essex Foundation Trust — to make sure it is keeping “patients safe” while facing major oxygen shortages.

The shortages have forced the site to reduce the amount of oxygen it is giving to patients. Last week, the hospital said “all patients should have a target [oxygen] saturation of 88 to 92 per cent” — two percentage points lower than the lowest recommended in NHS safety guidance.

Both the CQC and NHS England told HSJ the change to patient oxygen targets at Southend was a “temporary” measure but neither they, not the trust itself, said how long the measures would be in place for.

The CQC told HSJ: “We have followed up directly with the trust regarding their oxygen supply systems to fully understand the issue, and the actions being taken to keep patients safe and ensure any temporary deviation from NICE guidelines is thoroughly risk assessed. The trust is being supported by [NHSE/I] and we are closely monitoring the situation.”

An NHSE spokeswoman said: “Southend Hospital is experiencing particularly high demand because of rising numbers of inpatients with covid-19 and has put a temporary protocol in place as one of many measures introduced to manage the situation.”

The NHS safety guidance on oxygen, which is developed by NHSE but published by the National Institute of Care Excellence, was first published in April 2020 and updated two months ago in November 2020.

It reads: “To support prioritisation of oxygen flow for the most severely ill patients in hospital, oxygen prescribing targets for all adults treated in NHS hospitals should be adjusted from the current range (of oxygen saturation 94 - 98 per cent) to oxygen saturation 92 - 96 per cent in the first instance. A target range of 90 - 94 per cent may be considered if clinically appropriate by hospitals according to prevailing oxygen flow demands”.

Mid and South Essex FT has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. As of 14 January, 47 per cent of its adult general and acute beds were occupied by covid-19 patients.

The trust did not respond to a request for comment.