Page last updated at 23:42 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 00:42 UK

Hospital transfer 'battery risks'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

NHS ambulance
Ambulances sometimes transfer patients between hospitals

Unnecessary risks are being taken when transferring seriously ill people from hospital to hospital, doctors say.

Some patients, such as those with head injuries or burns, are moved because they require care at specialist units.

But British Medical Association doctors said medics often had to rely on batteries to power vital equipment - and these were prone to failing.

The Department of Health said it was up to local trusts to ensure the right steps were taken for such patients.

Most ambulances do not have sockets for standard three-pin plugs.

Instead, they have cigarette lighter-style sockets, which means hospital equipment such as ventilators, blood pressure monitoring and intravenous drug equipment cannot be plugged into the vehicle's power supply.

The problem is that batteries can run out - it happened to me once
Dr Aynk Dharmarajah, of the British Medical Association

Doctors transferring patients are therefore required to connect the equipment to batteries.

Newer ambulances are being brought in which do have three-pin plug sockets but, because many of the older vehicles will be on the roads for another five years, doctors believe action is need now.

Dr Aynk Dharmarajah, a member of the BMA's junior doctors' committee, said: "The problem is that batteries can run out. It happened to me once, but fortunately we had just arrived at the hospital.

"I am not the only one. It has happened to other colleagues and it is certainly not uncommon.

"When it does we have to start using manual equipment, which of course is not ideal."

Dr Dharmarajah, who works as an anaesthetist in London and as such is often involved in patient transfers, said a "simple solution" would be for ambulances to start using adaptors that would take the three-pin plug.

The devices, known as inverters, can be bought for less than £100. But only a handful of NHS trusts are using them.

Matt Whitticombe, general secretary of the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, agreed.

"I think it would make a lot of sense. Hospitals could stock them so that when patients are transferred this problem does not crop up," he said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "It is for ambulance trusts locally to ensure they have the right equipment for the job.

"Ambulance fleets are constantly being updated and new ambulances are able to support additional equipment."

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