London hospital diverts emergency patients amid fears over oxygen supply

Hospitals across London are having to manage oxygen levels so hospital pipes can cope with demand

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 07 January 2021 12:02
<p>St Helier Hospital in Sutton, south London, has had to divert patients because of oxygen concerns</p>

St Helier Hospital in Sutton, south London, has had to divert patients because of oxygen concerns

Another London hospital has been forced to divert emergency patients because of fears over its ability to supply enough oxygen to patients.

St Helier hospital in Sutton, south London, was forced to also transfer a “small number” of patients to other hospitals after demand for oxygen reached unsustainable levels.

It is the latest hospital in the capital to face problems with its oxygen supply after the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich declared a major incident before Christmas. Other hospitals across the capital have had to institute oxygen management measures and reduce oxygen to some patients to manage demand.

The problem is not due to a lack of oxygen but the inability of hospital pipes to physically deliver the volume of gas needed by coronavirus patients who can suffer hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, as a result of the virus.

Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust told The Independent the trust’s 80-year-old buildings were struggling to cope.

A new oxygen vaporiser was delivered to the St Helier site on Wednesday and will be operational from next week, trebling the hospital’s oxygen capacity.

In Parliament on Wednesday the Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to look into concerns over oxygen supplies at Queen’s Hospital, in Romford, where the trust declared a major incident before Christmas due to Covid demand. The trust has seen oxygen demand running at near-capacity.

Local MP Margaret Hodge said she was “deeply worried” that oxygen supplies in some hospitals could 'shut down' because demand was so high and the infrastructure could not cope.

Bosses at the trust agreed to divert patients on Tuesday morning. It has opened up extra beds at Epsom Hospital and at the South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre to allow patients needing oxygen to be taken straight there.

Trust chief executive Daniel Elkeles, said: “The high number of Covid-19 patients admitted to St Helier has had an impact on the hospital’s 80-year-old infrastructure, impacting our piped oxygen supply.

“Importantly, a new vaporiser, which will treble our piped oxygen supply has been delivered this morning and will be up and running shortly. In the meantime, we are closely monitoring and maintaining the piped oxygen supply at St Helier Hospital where all wards, including ICU, continue to operate to national guidance regarding safe oxygen levels for patients.

“To prevent the issue escalating, we have transferred a small number of patients from St Helier and agreed with local NHS partners that emergency ambulances should be diverted to Epsom Hospital and to other neighbouring hospitals for a period of time.

“This is thanks to the collaboration of the NHS teams across south west London and will help us ensure that patients across the region continue to get the care they need.”

NHS England warned hospitals over the demands for oxygen earlier this year after several NHS trusts were forced to divert patients when their systems failed. Watford General Hospital had to close its A&E in April.

NHS England has invested £15m on improvement works at some hospitals to help shore up oxygen systems.

Wards have also been told to watch out for the risk of fire due to high levels of ambient oxygen in the air.

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