Medical Gases – A ticking timebomb for the most vulnerable

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Medical Gases – A ticking timebomb for the most vulnerable

Like all horrific incidents, there is a tendency for the relevant bodies to calm the public’s mood by using terminology such as “unprecedented” or “highly abnormal”, which is exactly what happened after the fatal explosion of an ambulance in Naas less than 12 short months ago.

Within days of the incident, the National Ambulance Service ordered a safety check on all Oxygen containers in all 264 vehicles with concerns centering on the oxygen supply in the ambulance, which burst into flames. This was widely welcomed by everyone, but a number of pertinent questions remain:

  • This “check” only covered ambulances in the NAS and did not cover private ambulance operators working for the HSE, which cost the HSE €7.8 million in 2016. Has anything been done to ensure that such an incident won’t happen again with the HSE subcontractors?
  • The reality is that there has been similar non fatal fires in ambulances in the past so whilst a fatality in this case was indeed unprecedented, the fact that there were other fires, was not. To be very specific, a number of ambulances have been destroyed including one outside Drogheda, one in Meath, one at the K-club, which was during the Ryder Cup and in one patient transfer, a fire broke out on the Naas dual carriageway. The problem is that we don’t know if these other fires also relate to oxygen and if they did, what procedures had been put in place to minimise recurrence.
  • Paramedics have claimed that Oxygen and other gas cylinders are stored on top of or close to electrical, heating and video recording equipment on ambulances and that this could be a hazard. In 2017, you would like to think that this isn’t the case! All of the vehicles in the fleet are less than 10 years old but they do get a fair amount of use so it is likely that maintenance or perhaps training in the use of gases, is one area that can be improved.

Of course the problem is that Oxygen in itself is not combustible nor is it seen by many as combustible simply by the fact that we breath it every single day. Oxygen does however facilitate burning and especially so when used in a highly combustible form such as the oxygen cylinders in ambulances. In fact in this compressed form it is a ticking time bomb if not treated with the utmost of care.

In the UK, compressed Oxygen has been responsible for a number of fires including the evacuation of patients from the intensive care unit at the hospital in Bath just 6 years ago. Of course the fire risks of compressed oxygen are just one of the elements to consider, the other’s centre around the prescribing and monitoring of what is actually considered a drug and of course the management of cylinders as a whole.

So the big question remains that if Oxygen in the UK and Oxygen in Ireland is the same (which it is); shouldn’t all staff in Ireland follow the best practice and mandatory model in the UK which is that all staff need to receive formal training on an annual basis on the safe use and management of medical gases, including the storage of medical gas cylinders. We certainly think so!! We will await the report from NAS but certainly we anticipate a number of recommendations to deal with what is currently a ticking timebomb.

Dulann is a provider of technology-enabled learning solutions for many of the world’s leading organisations. Services include Product & Process Simulations, Contractor Inductions & Employee Onboarding, Mandatory & Commercial Training, Contractor Management & Learning Management Systems. From September 2017, Dulann will be providing online Medical Gas training (including oxygen) to Nurses and Porters in conjunction with subject matter experts Cadham Consultancy.


About Damian Donlon.

Damian is a Non Executive, Senior Consultant, Interim Manager and Talent Adviser with specialist experience in the Technology sector. Please feel free to contact him directly on 0879218616 for a confidential conversation.