No national shortage of oxygen for COVID patients, UK health minister says

Medical workers stand next to an ambulance, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside Royal London Hospital, in London, Britain January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) - There is no national shortage of oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients but some may have to go to different hospitals when local capacity has been used up, British health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.

Hancock was responding to media reports that some hospitals were rationing their oxygen supplies in the face of high demand. They come as health officials warn of hospitals becoming overwhelmed by a sharp increase in serious COVID-19 cases.

“The limitation is not the supply of oxygen itself, it is the ability to get the oxygen... through the physical oxygen supply systems within hospitals, and that essentially becomes a constraint on an individual hospital’s ability to take more COVID patients,” Hancock told lawmakers.

This meant it was sometimes necessary to move patients, usually locally but “occasionally across the country, to make sure they get the treatment that they need”, he added.

Echoing Hancock’s comments, a spokeswoman for the state-run National Health Service said: “The NHS has enough oxygen supplies to meet current demand and will continue to work with suppliers to manage any future needs.”

Britain has accelerated its nationwide vaccination campaign to protect the most vulnerable. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to be able to ease a new national lockdown by mid-February, when the highest risk groups have been vaccinated.

Reporting by Sarah Young, Paul Sandle and Alistair Smout; editing by Gareth Jones