HOSPITALS could run short of medical oxygen in “hours rather than days” as the coronavirus pandemic escalates, intensive care specialists have warned.
Healthcare companies supplying oxygen to the NHS have been told to "quadruple supplies", and military drivers will be called in to ferry emergency supplies around the country.
Ventilation with oxygen is a crucial treatment for people critically ill with coronavirus, but there are fears that demand will be too great if the health service is inundated with cases.
When hospital oxygen tanks run low, an automatic message is sent to BOC Healthcare, which organises a delivery.
But doctors fear that the supply may be depleted too quickly for the company to keep up.
“There needs to be a greater heightened sense of urgency about this," said Dr Ganesh Suntharalingam, president of the Intensive Care Society.
"Oxygen supply is not something we’re used to thinking about, but there is no guarantee it won’t run out in a matter of hours rather than days.”
Oxygen supply is not something we’re used to thinking about, but there is no guarantee it won’t run out in a matter of hours rather than days
It came as health analysts warned that the NHS needs more than seven times the number of critical care beds with ventilators than it has now.
Specialists predict the NHS will become "overwhelmed", run out of oxygen, medication and beds as coronavirus cases are expected to exceed a million.
The death toll in the UK has doubled as 35 patients have now died.
Official figures have also confirmed the number of positive cases in the UK is 1,391.
Across the world more than 6,000 people have now died from the disease.
“Hopefully we can reduce the growth rate more effectively by taking firmer action collectively,” said George Batchelor, co-founder and director of Edge Health (EH).
Analysis by EH shows Britain would require 93,000 beds with ventilators if the coronavirus were to peak without the curve of the epidemic being flattened.
Batchelor added: “But the NHS will need a lot of additional beds and ventilator capacity, and the staff to run them.
“What matters is not just the space, it’s making sure the equipment and the trained staff are there as well.
“There is a massive effort going on to make sure that capacity is as big as possible.”
The NHS currently has just under 150,000 beds in total, around 4,000 of which are for critical care – about half the number Italy had before the crisis broke there.
Under a more probable scenario, in which the growth of daily infections is slowed, the number of critical care beds required would fall to 30,000, but this is still 7.5 times the number of critical care beds currently available.
Later today, Boris Johnson will make an urgent appeal to Dyson, JCB and other leading manufacturers today to build thousands of ventilators as he puts Britain on a war footing to beat coronavirus.
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