The British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) has confirmed to gasworld that oxygen capacity in the UK “has been, and remains in place, to ramp up production levels significantly”.
The national trade body said it is taking all the steps it possibly can to continue to meet demand.
The BCGA issued the statement to gasworld following news that Southend Hospital in Essex is “working to manage” its oxygen supplies due to rising numbers of inpatients with Covid-19.
An internal document seen by the BBC, which is reported to have been shared with frontline NHS staff, said Southend Hospital had “reached a critical situation with oxygen supply” and the amount of oxygen used to treat patients should be reduced.
The document, also published by the BBC, says all patients should have a target range for blood oxygen levels of 88-92%.
It says patients with a “saturation above 92% which are on oxygen should have their oxygen weaned within the target range”.
Bosses assured that “maintaining saturations within this target range is safe and no patient will come to harm as a result”.
Yvonne Blucher, Managing Director of Southend Hospital, said, “We are experiencing high demand for oxygen because of rising numbers of inpatients with Covid-19 and we are working to manage this.”
In a statement shared with gasworld, BOC said, “Whilst demand for liquid oxygen increased, in the South East in particular, supplies were maintained and there were no stock outs.”
“There was sufficient production of medical oxygen and enough vehicles and drivers to cope with increased liquid demand.”
“BOC is working with the Department of Health and Social Care on a programme to upgrade and increase the capacity of the liquid oxygen systems in some hospitals.”
On its website, BOC confirmed that whilst there have been individual cases where the demand for medical oxygen has exceeded the vaporisation and delivery capability of a hospital’s liquid oxygen system, “this should not be confused with low stock or lack of product availability”.
Oxygen production and supply
Oxygen is made in the UK in around a dozen very large air separation units (ASUs) in mega-tonnages.
These were built historically to serve large demand in user industries, such as steel and chemical production – industries which have contracted significantly over decades – leaving great over capacity in the ASU’s.
A tiny proportion of the ASU output becomes medical oxygen - around 1% normally - under licence by the medical Regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and under strict quality control processes, the BCGA explained in a statement.
“The capacity has been, and remains in place, to ramp up production levels significantly,” the statement said.
“The majority of medical oxygen is supplied to hospitals as bulk liquid oxygen, in road tankers.”
“Significant steps were taken at the start of the pandemic, which remain in place now, to ensure this delivery is assured in the current situation.”
“This includes gas companies revising their driver rotas to bring other gas delivery professionals onto medical oxygen delivery duty.”
“Our members also supply medical oxygen in cylinders. Medical oxygen cylinders are supplied for use in hospitals, by the Ambulance service and for domiciliary patients, all of which are seeing increases in demand.”
“Measures have been drawn up to ensure there are as many available for use as possible. This has been achieved through various initiatives, including our work with government regulators, to safely bring many more cylinders into service.”
“Primarily, hospitals are supplied with medical oxygen from gas storage tanks and through pre-installed pipework.”
“Medical oxygen in cylinders provides a secondary source of supply, these can be used to help hospitals maintain supplies where there is increased demand from normal levels.”
“Since the beginning of the pandemic our members have been involved in upgrading hospital gas supply infrastructure to help meet the demand for medical oxygen.”