It’s fairly rare to face a power cut, in fact most of us will have experienced only a handful in our lives. Of course, the power going momentarily – say for a few minutes – is largely inconvenient rather than a serious problem for most, but that changes when you’re lying in hospital.
It’s largely a hypothetical situation, but hospitals have been known to face blackouts in the past. Just this summer, a 15-minute UK-wide power outage impacted Ipswich Hospital due to a fault in their backup process. Here, we discuss why blackout precautions matter, and how hospitals can help to avoid them in the first place.
The Dangers of a Blackout to A Hospital
The dangers of a true blackout in a hospital are somewhat obvious. In a building where some patients are reliant on life support machines and key monitoring systems, a full shutdown of power is genuinely life threatening. Patients could be mid-surgery, where good lighting and camera vision are being used, or in the middle of an MRI scan. The case in Ipswich affected outpatients, x-rays, scans and pathology but posed no direct risk to patients.
At a basic level, a power outage can cause major problems in a hospital. A hold up in services and increased anxiety among patients and visitors alike can mean anything from significant disruption through to a matter of life and death.
The solution to the problem lies in power supplies external from the National Grid. Each hospital in the UK is backed up by diesel fired generators, capable of taking over in the event of a universal power cut. Hospitals must ensure they have functioning generators, and the necessary amount of fuel to power them, available at all times. In the case of Ipswich Hospital, backup generators were present and working, however, a circuit breaker in the outpatient’s department failed.
Hospital generators are subject to regular testing and analysis, as are the fuels used by them. Heavily regulated, patients can feel confident in the backup power supply provided in all UK hospitals.
Naturally, the powers that be are looking to be proactive rather than reactive in the case of power shortages, and numerous prevention methods have been installed to try and ensure power cuts are avoided, particular in key areas like hospitals.
Back in 2013, energy watchdog, Ofgem advised hospitals to cut their power demand from the National Grid amid fears of causing blackouts. Hospital energy demand, particularly at peak times, is incredibly high, thus Ofgem asked hospitals to seek alternative methods of generating the power required to operate. This caused a number of hospitals to sign up to a policy where they turned to their generators for power to subsidise during their busiest points.
Proper investment into efficient backup power generation is essential for UK hospitals. For one, it means they’re adequately prepared in case of a power shortage, but it’s also a necessity in a tightly regulated world.
Thus, what happens in the case of a blackout at a hospital? Well, in pretty much any circumstance, the backup generators will save the day and operations will continue as normal. The incident in Ipswich goes to show that the system isn’t perfect, but occurrences like that in the UK system are nothing short of a true rarity.