COVID-19 continues to place a huge burden on health services across the globe – and one of the central challenges is meeting the huge increase in demand for medical oxygen.

For patients with severe COVID-19 infection, oxygen therapy is an essential intervention. A high proportion of those who are hospitalised can develop pneumonia. As breathing becomes more difficult, these patients require supplemental oxygen in significant quantities, often for an extended period of time.

Demand for medical oxygen is at an all-time high, and this is putting severe pressure on the entire medical gas industry, as it works to supply enough oxygen to those in need.

In this post, AMS Composite Cylinders Technical Director, Tony Morrin, explores the subject in detail. After looking at the key challenges facing the industry in the UK and Europe, he examines what the sector is doing to ensure that those who need it can access to oxygen in the quantities they require.

Scaling Up – The Magnitude of Demand

Every day, patients across the world suffering from respiratory diseases depend on oxygen therapy, at home, in care homes and in hospital settings.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has pushed demand for medical oxygen to record levels. Inside hospitals, oxygen is delivered through pipework to rooms and wards, with medical oxygen cylinders used to supplement this, and the quantities of oxygen required have expanded exponentially.

In hospitals, consumption has increased 5 to 10 times – requiring a real step change from suppliers in terms of delivery frequency and quantities. This spike in demand has a knock-on effect throughout the hospital and beyond, with the potential to constrain resources for everyone who relies on it.

Logistics and the Medical Oxygen Infrastructure

Across the UK and Europe, healthcare systems have adapted to the crisis in a number of ways – expanding ICU capacity, creating temporary COVID-19 wards and putting up temporary hospitals, such as the Nightingale units across the UK.

All these new and adapted facilities depend on having access to a sustainable supply of medical oxygen. In many cases, this has required the installation of a significant amount of new infrastructure and equipment. Thanks to the efforts of the industry, large scale liquid oxygen tanks and the pipework required to deliver it in the right quantities to patients has been installed in facilities across the UK and Europe in record time.

This has been a real logistical challenge, requiring a partnership response from specialist suppliers and the UK government. In the UK, military personnel have been drafted in to support the effort. Since March, they have been receiving training on driving oxygen tankers to support the NHS over the duration of the pandemic.

Increasing Production and Expanding Capacity

The medical gas industry has mobilised quickly, increasing capacity wherever possible to ensure that supply can meet the unprecedented demand.

In the UK, AMS Composite Cylinders customers including Dolby Vivisol and Flogas MGS are providing all the additional support they can to the NHS, expanding production capacity to increase supply to both ambulance trusts and home oxygen users.

The industry is also increasing production capacity of vital equipment and consumables for oxygen therapy in both hospital and homecare settings. The AMS Composite Cylinders manufacturing facility has significantly increased capacity and output of medical oxygen cylinders for home care use.

CryopAL, one of Air Liquide’s subsidiaries, has tripled production of its cryogenic oxygen vessels, and has further plans to expand to meet the needs of both home healthcare patients, and to equip medical facilities that do not have an existing piped oxygen network.

PPE Shortages and Logistics Challenges – Beyond the Front Line

The response of the medical gas industry has been against a backdrop of extremely challenging conditions for both production and global logistics.

The primary concern has been keeping the workforce safe and protected. The quality and effectiveness of the response has been down to the dedication of the teams, from the Qualified Persons who check each batch of medical product, to the production technicians and the delivery personnel.

The biggest challenge for homecare oxygen providers has been in sourcing the right PPE. The global shortage and restrictions on exports to some markets (including the UK) has made it increasingly difficult to procure the right equipment in the quantities needed.

Should those discharged from hospitals require oxygen therapy, this shortage has the potential to restrict the levels of homecare available.

The Industry Coming Together

One of the few positives coming out of this terrible crisis has been the medical gas industry’s ability and willingness to come together, support one another and serve.

The gas industry associations including the British Compressed Gasses Association (BCGA) and the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) have shown their commitment, providing leadership, support and guidance across the sector.

Taking a collaborative approach, they continue to discuss current best practices and potential measures that could be implemented as the pandemic develops.

Medical Oxygen Cylinders from AMS Composite Cylinders

At AMS, we are resolutely committed to meeting challenges head on over the coming weeks and months, and to offering the shortest possible lead times to all our medical oxygen cylinder customers.

Our high-pressure cylinders are approved by the majority of the world’s major gas companies.

We continually invest in our people, processes, plant and premises, maintaining the latest, best-practice standards across our entire operation. Our business is accredited to ISO 9001 Quality Management and we are working towards ISO 14001 Environmental Management and OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety standards.

AMS Composite Cylinders are produced in state-of-the-art production facilities in Taiwan, using responsibly sourced materials from industry leading suppliers – backed up by the AMS Supplier Code of Conduct. We offer full audit and inspection opportunities to all customers.

Producing cylinders to a wide range of recognised global standards, we hold accreditations in all major markets worldwide. We manufacture to ISO and EN standards (including ISO-11119-2, ISO 7666, ISO 11118 and EN12245) and to the requirements of UN PED/TPED, DOT (USA) and TC (Canada).

This blog was written by Tony Morrin; AMS Composite Cylinders Technical Director


For additional information about AMS Composite Cylinders, our processes, standards, approvals and accreditations, please contact us today.