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Oxygen issues during the COVID-19 pandemic


The national investigation

We launched a national investigation into the provision of piped oxygen gas supplies to hospitals.

There has been an increased demand for oxygen gas in hospital wards during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 can cause severe inflammation of the lungs affecting a patient’s ability to breathe.

As a result, an increased number of patients have required oxygen therapy within hospitals. Insufficient oxygen supply to seriously ill patients can have very severe consequences, including death.

Reference event

The investigation explored a reference event where an acute hospital trust (the Trust) declared a major incident when demands on its oxygen supply led to patients being diverted to different hospitals and a need to transfer patients between clinical environments.

The Trust had sufficient supplies of liquid oxygen available but its piped oxygen system was unable to deliver the volume of oxygen gas required to meet all patient needs.

Investigation summary

During the investigation, we:

  • Urgently investigated the reference event to better understand issues highlighted about limitations in piped oxygen supply to hospitals.
  • Explored the role of engineering specialists and medical gasses committees in piped oxygen supply.
  • Identified any safety action or learning that can assist in mitigating the risk to piped oxygen supplies, including urgently highlighting any actions that may assist NHS organisations in manging this risk.