HUNDREDS of frontline doctors have warned oxygen supplies are running critically low amid fears some wards may even run out.
Huge numbers of hospitals have been rocked by crippling shortages of oxygen – which is vital to help those struck down with coronavirus.
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More than 500 medics responding to a British Medical Association survey say they are becoming increasingly concerned, reports the Sunday Mirror.
One nurse even claimed some staff were now reusing syringe sets due to chronic shortages.
She said:“Now, because we’re running out, we are expected to use one needle for one patient the whole day – breaking health and safety rules."
However, the syringe claims have been denied by the NHS.
Dr Rob Harwood, BMA Consultants Committee chair, said: “Doctors and other healthcare workers are going above and beyond to provide the best possible care for a growing number of patients.
"However, supplies of medicines and essential resources simply aren’t available on the front line on a regular basis, meaning doctors aren’t able to provide treatment they ideally want for patients."
The fears come after it was reported oxygen is now being rationed in deluged hospitals.
The Daily Telegraph reported NHS bosses told trusts to reserve oxygen for those who need it most earlier this month.
Hospitals were also told to downgrade blood saturation targets – seen as a a key indicator of a patient's health.
Low oxygen levels – known as hypoxia – can lead to chronic organ failure and brain damage.
However, the new guidance stated the optimum saturation range of 94 to 98 per cent should be lowered to 92 to 96 per cent “in the first instance”.
The guidance was reportedly for all hospital patients not just those struck down with COVID-19.
British Thoracic Society (BTS) protocols say patients with acute illness should have oxygen saturation above 90 per cent.
Dr Graham Burns, president elect of the BTS, said: "It’s not ideal. 90 per cent is when you start to approach the cliff face, so we prefer 94 per cent because it’s a step away from that.”
Ventilation of coronavirus patients is critical to keeping them alive, but oxygen stocks could run dry as infection cases skyrocket.
Senior manages at hospitals across England have already warned supplies are running low, and there aren't enough engineers to expand capacity.
Only last week, one London hospital came right to the brink of running out of oxygen, as demand for ventilators put huge pressure on supplies.
British soldiers are even being trained to help deliver oxygen to hospitals up and down the country.
One hospital director said "oxygen is the new PPE" after medical staff fought to have enough personal protective equipment while they looked after highly infectious coronavirus patients.
Others said widespread use of continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAP), the most non-invasive ventilation, was effective for most patients but used "massive" amounts of a hospitals oxygen supply.
A senior leader at a trust outside of London said they had been fighting to get more engineering support to help oxygen supplies for more than a week.
On Wednesday, Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents trust chief executives, said oxygen flow had turned out to be a more significant problem than ventilator availability, which has so far kept pace with demand.
“I can't tell you how many chief executives have needed to become absolute experts in oxygen system supply capacity over the last two or three weeks, because that's turned out to probably be a bigger constraint than the actual ventilators,” he told the BBC.
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Dr Ramani Moonesinghe, National clinical director for critical care for NHS England, said: "The revised clinical guidelines, agreed with all relevant clinical experts, will help local teams manage patient care safely in the context of the higher than usual number of people who are receiving oxygen treatment.”
The news comes as NHS frontline heroes are finding it increasingly difficult to get the PPE they need to do their job properly.
Medics will now have to treat coronavirus patients without full-length gowns as hospitals are set to run out within hours.
Public Health England is set to tell frontline staff to wear a flimsy plastic apron when gowns have run out – which could lead to more hero healthcare workers contracting the virus.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said the amount of key workers still without protective equipment was a "scandal".
"Workers have been sounding the alarm for weeks now and the Government has had months to put things in place," he said.
"It is outrageous that supplies keep running so low, protecting those staff who are risking their lives every time they go to work should be an absolute priority."
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