Medical Oxygen is a Prescription Only Medicine. Periods of extreme demand, often driven by a surge in respiratory conditions, can increase oxygen usage dramatically and quickly due to the need to provide oxygen treatment, especially smaller sized cylinders, in areas without access to a piped supply.
This surge in demand and use of oxygen cylinders in areas where staff may not be familiar with widespread routine use increases the known risks associated with the handling and use of cylinders, and introduces new risks across to patient safety, fire safety and physical safety of staff.
Oxygen itself is not flammable but is a fire accelerant. At times of high use it is important to ensure adequate ventilation of clinical areas and to monitor environmental oxygen levels which should remain below 22% to avoid significantly increased risk of fire.
Information for Chief Pharmacists
As local leaders responsible for medicines supplies and use in hospitals, including medical gases, NHS Chief Pharmacists should keep themselves up to date with the current advice on the NHS England website.
Further information can be found within FutureNHS site Resource pack: Medical Oxygen provision. Registration for access to the site and to the Pharmacy and Medicines Optimisation Workspace is needed.
Answers to common questions
In addition, a range of answers to common questions have been developed based on experiences during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic escalation and requests made for information to UK Regional Pharmaceutical Quality Assurance and Control leads. These are presented in the SPS pages listed above.
- text added to highlight importance of ventilation to mitigate fire risk at times of high use
- Introduction and related resources updated to reflect latest NPSAT Safety Alert. Link to FutureNHS site updated. Title of article changed from "Answers to questions on medical gases oxygen and the covid-19 pandemic"
- added note that registration is required to access content on FutureNHS
- added link to NHSEI resource pack on improving resilience of oxygen supplies
- Medical gases are under constant review and article series remains valid. Full content review due 2022, or sooner if National guidance dictates.