Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 00:01 UK

NHS told to improve oxygen care

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Oxygen therapy patient
The NPSA is concerned about standards in hospitals

Concerns are being raised that patients receiving oxygen treatment are being put at unnecessary risk because of poor monitoring and faulty equipment.

The National Patient Safety Agency has given hospitals in England and Wales until the end of March to improve.

The watchdog said it was acting after receiving reports of people dying and being seriously harmed due to problems.

Experts said despite over 2m people getting oxygen treatment each year, it was still not being prioritised enough.

The therapy is given to a range of patients, including people with lung problems, trauma patients and those struggling with serious infections.

The issue with oxygen is that it is often not seen as a medication. It is not a priority and safety checks are not being followed
Tara Lamont, of the NPSA

The NPSA acted after a voluntary reporting scheme flagged up a "substantial" number of mistakes.

The watchdog had been alerted to almost 300 incidents, including 44 deaths, where mistakes had been made over the past five years.

But officials said the true figure was likely to be much higher, as not all cases would have been reported under the scheme.

The most common problems highlighted were faulty equipment, cylinders being left to run empty and mistakes administering the treatment, including giving air instead of oxygen.

NHS staff were also criticised for poor monitoring of oxygen levels - too much or too little oxygen can cause tissue and organ damage and, ultimately, death.

Nurses and healthcare assistants are often left to check oxygen levels, but the overall care remains the responsibility of doctors.

Tara Lamont, from the NPSA, said: "All the serious incidents were preventable. That is why we have put out the alert. No-one should be dying because a gas cylinders runs out of oxygen. It is not acceptable.

"The issue with oxygen is that it is often not seen as a medication. It is not a priority and safety checks are not being followed."

The demand for improvement covers community and mental health hospitals as well as the larger centres.

Save lives

As well as reviewing general practices and carrying out a stock-take of equipment, the NPSA has urged them to take several specific steps.

These include using piped oxygen from a central supply rather than using cylinders where possible.

Peter Walsh, of the Action Against Medical Accidents charity, said: "It is a long-running problem and I am just glad it has been taken up by the NPSA.

"Hospitals must now take action because it will save lives."

But Dr Ronan O'Driscoll, an expert in respiratory medicine and member of the British Thoracic Society, said the NHS was aware of the problem.

"For the last 10 to 15 years, oxygen has often not been seen as important. It has been viewed as safe and not needing such attention. That is now changing."

Professor Hugo Mascie-Taylor, of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: "The NPSA is right to highlight this, as oxygen treatment should be offered with a similar degree of seriousness that comes with a drug prescription."

And the Department of Health added that it expected hospitals to respond to the demands.

Print Sponsor

Patients hit by oxygen shortage
17 Feb 06 |  Health
Asthma man's oxygen supply delay
08 Feb 06 |  Kent
Worry over oxygen supply change
01 Feb 06 |  North West Wales

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific