Coronavirus: Health Secretary faces pressure to ramp up hospital oxygen supplies

7 April 2020, 10:22

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) has come under pressure from acting Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) has come under pressure from acting Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

The Health Secretary is facing pressure to ramp up oxygen supplies in hospitals to treat patients battling coronavirus.

Acting Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey has written to Matt Hancock warning of “catastrophic consequences” if those with the worst symptoms are left struggling to breathe.

The party is calling for a review of NHS infrastructure after Watford General Hospital, which has been inundated with coronavirus sufferers, declared a “critical incident” on Saturday morning due to lack of oxygen equipment.

West Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, told all patients to stay away from A&E until the alert was stood down after 12 hours.

Watford General Hospital, which has been inundated with coronavirus sufferers, declared a “critical incident” on Saturday
Watford General Hospital, which has been inundated with coronavirus sufferers, declared a “critical incident” on Saturday. Picture: PA

NHS England last week warned hospitals about the risk to oxygen supplies due to increased demand, with ventilators and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines under heavy demand to assist those fighting Covid-19.

In a letter, Sir Ed, along with the Lib Dems' Commons and Lords health spokeswomen, Munira Wilson, and Baroness Sal Brinton, warned the Secretary of State that a failure to bolster vital oxygen infrastructure could endanger lives.

"The critical incident at Watford General Hospital this weekend caused significant alarm for staff, patients and thousands of people across Hertfordshire who are served by the hospital," they wrote.

"The incident lays bare underlying issues with critical infrastructure which may be replicated across multiple NHS Trusts.

"Failure to shore up such systems could have catastrophic consequences for patients."

The Lib Dems are calling for a nationwide review of health infrastructure in a bid to "uncover any urgent upgrades for parts of the NHS estate that are critical for oxygen storage and delivery".

Senior party figures said more than half of the £6 billion of NHS capital infrastructure maintenance backlog was considered "high" or "significant" risk by the Department of Health and Social Care, and demanded upgrades related to oxygen provision be treated as a "priority".

Mr Hancock told the Downing Street press briefing on Sunday: "The quantity of oxygen and the supply of oxygen is something that we have been working very hard on and we have a very high degree of confidence in the supply of oxygen.”

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