Staff at the East of England Ambulace Service are reported to have been told to be careful with oxygen because of a supply shortage caused by rising flu and covid cases.
The local ambulance trust is one of a number across the country that has been warned by the British Oxygen Company (BOC) that it will be unable to supply the full order of oxygen cylinders it has asked for.
The issue, as reported in the Health Service Journal (HSJ), affects only small oxygen cylinders - not bulk supplies for hospitals.
HSJ also reported that East of England Ambulance Service Trust had told staff that oxygen suppliers were unable to fulfil its orders and supplies will need to be “carefully” managed for the next few days.
HSJ said East of England Ambulance Service Trust had said in a message to staff on Thursday: “Oxygen suppliers, including BOC, are currently unable to supply sufficient numbers [of small cylinders] to fulfil our orders.
“This has been escalated nationally and NHS Procurement are working to support ambulance trusts with supplies.”
An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We have issued guidelines to crews to make sensible conservation measures, such as only returning cylinders when completely empty and using other oxygen sources where possible.
"But clinicians are instructed to continue managing patients’ target oxygen saturation levels in line with JRCALC [Joint Royal Colleges Ambulance Liaison Committee] guidelines.”
NHS England said there was no shortage in supply of oxygen itself, but that it was seeing “significant” demand for portable oxygen cylinders.
HSJ said the type of cylinder affected usually provides about 30 minutes of oxygen on full flow and is widely used on ambulances and also where patients are cohorted in A&E departments or kept in corridors waiting to be passed to hospitals, without access to the normal piped supply.
Many ambulances will carry several smaller cylinders and sometimes they also carry one larger one.
However, if a patient requiring oxygen cannot be handed over quickly at A&E, ambulance supplies may start to run low.
The latest data shows the number of flu patients in hospital in England has risen 79% in the last week, with an average of 3,746 people in hospital across the seven days to December 25.
This is up from 2,088 the previous week.
East of England has also suggested some elderly patients with oxygen saturation between 92 and 94 per cent may not require oxygen unless their level is lower than normal, it added.
BOC – a major supplier of oxygen to the NHS – has a notice on its website saying that some cylinders are only being supplied on a “full for empty” basis, meaning it can only supply the same amount of cylinders that are being returned.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “While there is no shortage of oxygen, the NHS is seeing significant demand for portable oxygen due to increased numbers of patients suffering from respiratory viruses such as flu and Covid-19.
“Local areas are using existing supply as efficiently as possible while, nationally, suppliers are working with the NHS to help meet increased demand – anybody needing care should not hesitate to contact the NHS as they usually would.”