How do hospitals cope in a crisis?


As soon as we understood COVID-19 would affect us in the UK we needed to be ready. Looking at other countries and how they were dealing with the crisis was a start to understanding what our hospitals might need to do to respond.

Andy Barrow is the Head of Electronics & Medical Engineering (EME) & Radiology Maintenance for 2gether Support Solutions. He runs a forty strong team across three acute sites for East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHUFT). The team went from 2000 job requests in March 2020 to over 3000 in April 2020.

Andy said: “The big issue that we have is that this is a national crisis, so it’s not just east Kent increasing demand for equipment, but hospitals across the UK.

“We knew there would be a considerable increase in the requirement for intensive care beds and we needed to work out the best way to put this in place.

“But it isn’t just getting the extra intensive care equipment and making sure it is all tested and working. One of the major projects for us is the supply of oxygen to the patients. At our sites we have large oxygen tanks and we have never before had any concerns about their capacity. If you imagine that these tanks are just like a water tap in your house, only so much can come out at a time, would our tanks be able to cope with the extra capacity required?

Andy Barrow with oxygen testing equipment

“My team set about this challenge to make sure that oxygen supply wouldn’t be an issue. One of the things we did was look at the anaesthetic machines, which have a basic ventilator function, and going by the manufacturers guidelines we were able to convert these to run on piped air rather than oxygen. Each machine needed to be taken apart, converted, and then tested to make sure they were safe to use.

“We also wanted to find out exactly how much oxygen a ventilator uses, if we know this we can more accurately predict maximum capacity. We decided to buy testing equipment to find out for ourselves how much per minute the machines use.”

A typical anaesthetic machine

Andy said that none of this would be possible without the incredible team work that goes on across 2gether’s departments and EKHUFT:

“From the beginning I have been working closely with Sarah Charman, Associate Director of Procurement, our clinical lead Dr Matt Jones, Consultant Anaesthetist, Bob Gadd, Estates Manager, and Wayne Moore from Medical Technology Management Ltd. Between our teams we have procured, delivered and implemented equipment that our hospitals need in this current situation. Working closely across all functions has been the key to the success of getting our infrastructure ready.”