PATIENT oxygen use at two major hospitals in Hampshire “is getting towards its capacity”, it has been revealed.
Dr Andrew Bishop, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight (HIOW) NHS Covid-19 clinical medical acute lead, said oxygen used at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester and the Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital “is getting towards its capacity” and "it could become a constraint”.
But he also stressed that at the moment there is “no alarm” about a lack of oxygen at these hospitals and there are no resilience issues.
NHS bosses said patients who are prescribed oxygen “will absolutely continue to have access to it”.
The news comes as NHS leaders in Hampshire said local hospitals are treating “more patients with Covid-19 than ever before”.
Talking about oxygen provision at the hospitals in Winchester and Basingstoke during a Hampshire County Council meeting, Dr Bishop said: “We have not yet arrived to a situation where that becomes an issue which is unmanageable but what we are aware of is that the oxygen use in those hospitals is getting towards its capacity and therefore in theory it could become a constraint.
"There’s no alarm about a lack of oxygen at these hospitals at the moment but there’s a concern about trying to expand further.”
Explaining the reasons behind the concerns, he added: “There are only limited things that you can do about this because there’s a significant amount of infrastructure problems that you can’t resolve simply by bringing in oxygen on the back of a lorry.
"Some of this is about the pipes and the flow rather than the actual availability of oxygen in the hospital. It is ok at the moment in those hospitals, there isn’t a resilience issue as we speak. There are a limited number of things that can be done to support that in the short term.”
Both hospitals are run by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Dr Lara Alloway, the trust’s chief medical officer, said: “Under normal circumstances, hospital oxygen supply systems have a large reserve but Covid-19 has changed how we work and we are seeing an increase in the use of high flow oxygen across our hospitals, and our reserves are being accessed more regularly.
"There are steps in place to safely manage this, and patients in our care who are prescribed oxygen will absolutely continue to have access to it.”
She said the hospitals’s levels of oxygen are “closely monitored” and measures are in place to manage oxygen usage.
These include checking that ports are switched off when a patient leaves the ward or no longer requires oxygen as part of their care.
Dr Alloway added: “Our hospitals and staff are under increasing pressure. We are now caring for more patients with Covid-19 than ever before.
"Whilst we continue to do everything we can inside our hospital buildings, we are asking for the public to do their bit to stay safe and reduce the transmission of Covid-19 to protect themselves, those around them, and the NHS.”
When asked whether there were concerns about oxygen provision at University Hospital Southampton (UHS), Joe Teape, UHS chief operating officer, said: “Treating patients with Covid has seen an unprecedented demand on the supply of oxygen and managing that supply is an integral part of our operational planning as we expand our intensive care provision.
"We have been, and will continue to, provide sufficient capacity to meet that demand as the pandemic moves forward. Our estates team have been a hugely important part of our escalation planning team and work closely with clinical teams on a daily basis to ensure we are using our supply appropriately across the estate as we treat increasing numbers of critically ill patients.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS has enough oxygen supplies to meet current demand and will continue to work with suppliers to manage any future needs. It is more important than ever that the public do everything possible to reduce social transmission and help reduce infection rate.”