How Sue Ryder is taking the lead on oxygen safety

Categories: Featured and Policy.

Phil Read, Head of Health and Safety at Sue Ryder, tells ehospice about taking measures to ensure patients using medical oxygen are safe at all times.

Sue Ryder clinical teams and the Head of Health & Safety recently became aware of the increased risks surrounding the use of medical gases. Publicity around their dangers had highlighted a number of incidents at other organisations in the UK and abroad, where patients had been injured or killed as a result of fires which had started while they were using medical oxygen. Sue Ryder provides care to service users at its palliative and neurological centres so it was essential that we proactively introduced measures to reduce this specific risk.

Through consultation with care centres it was clear that we would not be willing to tolerate this risk, and wanted to establish and develop solutions that would protect our service users and prevent such foreseeable risks. Since 2006, ‘Firesafe’ valves have been a requirement of all home oxygen installations in England and Wales. These limit injuries and prevent deaths among patients if they are unfortunate enough to experience a fire.

At Sue Ryder our approach is and always will be to provide the highest level of safety to our service users and in consultation it was clear that some home oxygen providers would often only fit a firebreak close to the oxygen cylinder/concentrator, not as close as possible to the patient’s face as required by the regulations. We wanted to make absolutely sure that these valves were fitted correctly and in line with manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure continued compliance and safety to all our service users.

It was clear to me that we needed to adopt a consistent approach across our organisation.

I started by contacting the company that developed and now manufactures the firebreak, BPR Medical, to explore an integrated safety solution. Their business development manager, Ian Buckle, explained to me that two firebreaks are needed in every installation – one near the oxygen device and one as close to the patient’s face as possible. Speaking with Ian and others at BPR Medical some shocking experience was shared, including the manual cutting of tubing; this should not happen under any circumstances – in fact it is strictly prohibited by the NHS. We wanted to make absolutely sure that we did not slip into such poor standards; we wanted to continue to operate in line with the regulations so we set about establishing a compliant oxygen supply system.

Working with Ian and the team at BPR, Sue Ryder’s Medical Devices Group and clinical leads, we developed a kit that would provide a suitable length of tubing that was preassembled with firebreaks so that no assembly or adjustment would be needed by local centre staff.

As well as fire safety, one of my concerns was infection control, and we wanted to ensure that any kit assembled was stored prior to use in an appropriate bag which would prevent potential dust and bacteria from contaminating the oxygen supply kit. BPR sourced appropriate resealable bags to address this issue, meaning the kit can be hygienically stored.

Through consultation and feasibility tests over the course of several weeks, we agreed the kit design by meeting the needs of our clinical teams. The new approach, approved by our Medical Devices Group, has been an enormous success, with back office staff and clinicians all agreeing it is exactly the solution required.

Since agreement all our centres have started using the Firesafe™ oxygen administration kit and we are assured of consistency across the organisation. Above all, we know we are doing everything possible to safeguard our patients.

There is still a risk to patients who smoke, and it is difficult to prevent patients from smoking – particularly those who have been long term smokers and are at the end of their lives. Despite our best efforts to communicate the dangers, they may still be exposed to other potential risks such as candles or electrical sparks while using oxygen. However, with firebreaks correctly fitted we now know we are doing our very best to limit the risks to patients, staff, and property should the worst happen. Plus, it is reassuring to know that we are meeting our legal requirement and going above and beyond to ensure the highest possible safety standards.

For more information visit Sue Ryder