Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increased need for oxygen in Belgium for patients with respiratory problems. The FAMHP and its relevant partners, assembled as part of the Task Force in charge of the management of medical devices and medicinal products, are taking measures to guarantee supply.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a challenge for the typical medical oxygen distribution channels. The FAMHP, in collaboration with the relevant partners (the beMedTech and Essenscia federations, and the companies they represent, the INAMI and the FPS Public Health, Defence, pharmaceutical associations (APB and OPHACO), and organisations representing nursing and care homes, nursing homes for the elderly and hospitals) is taking the following steps to continue to ensure supply.
Oxygen for hospitals, nursing and care homes, intermediate care facilities (centres de soins intermédiaires/schakelzorgcentra) and outpatient use
Hospitals are equipped with special systems to store and distribute oxygen in large quantities to patients. These systems have few drawbacks in terms of supply. As a result, patients who require oxygen should preferably be hospitalised. Patients who see an improvement in their condition but who still need oxygen should remain hospitalised.
Nursing and care homes are not equipped with special systems to store oxygen in large quantities and use it with patients. Under normal circumstances, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and portable liquid oxygen containers are used. Care facilities with a larger number of patients requiring oxygen can rely on increased effort from suppliers (e.g. the installation of a network for the use of bulk liquid oxygen).
Intermediate care facilities (schakelzorgcentra in Flanders) do not, in principle, treat patients requiring oxygen. In the event of an emergency, these patients follow the usual supply route via the public dispensary or the hospital pharmacy.
Chronic patients who already use oxygen at home continue to be supplied through their usual system.
New ambulatory patients who require oxygen can contact a public pharmacy.
Each actor in the sector must take responsibility and make rational use of the available stock. Treatment with oxygen can only be prescribed by a doctor. New installations can only be set up or ordered if a doctor, after seeing the patient, has issued a medical prescription in the patient’s name. Doctors can only prescribe oxygen if it is a medical necessity or for palliative reasons. Pharmacists can only order oxygen if they are in possession of a medical prescription.
No unnecessary storage
Equipment used in oxygen therapy must be filled by the supplier, distributed to the patient, then collected, disinfected and refilled after use. It is therefore important, especially in the current situation, that empty oxygen cylinders and other used materials be made available to suppliers as soon as possible. In doing so, each user can contribute to the smooth running of the distribution chain. It is unnecessary and counter-productive to store oxygen cylinders, portable liquid oxygen containers or oxygen concentrators. Unused inventory reduces availability for others. If a user has unused equipment or inventory, they must notify the supplier immediately.
How to get oxygen?
Deliveries by oxygen suppliers will only be accepted if ordered by a (hospital) pharmacist. It should, first and foremost, be the usual pharmacist. This also applies to nursing and care homes. During the weekend, on-call pharmacies are also available, the details of which can be found at www.pharmacie.be. Requests without a medical prescription in the patient’s name will not be fulfilled. Nursing, care homes and patients cannot order directly from suppliers. Pharmacists are therefore responsible for contacting and providing information to patients, nursing homes and care homes...
(Hospital) pharmacists can contact oxygen suppliers in Belgium using special emergency numbers. Thanks to mutual cooperation and streamlined requests, they are working hard to help all new oxygen patients.
- All forms of oxygen therapy are now possible in an outpatient environment: oxygen concentrator, gaseous and liquid oxygen. Of course, the indication and the flow and equipment required must be taken into consideration.
- Liquid oxygen is reimbursed by the RIZIV-INAMI, as well as by public pharmacies. The RIZIV-INAMI has also authorised a new supplier to deliver reimbursed oxygen concentrators as of 10.04.2020. These reimbursement procedures will also be drawn up and guaranteed.
- When a supplier has a supply of oxygen but cannot deliver due to a lack of staff, vehicles or drivers, etc. it may ask for assistance from another supplier, the Ministry of Defence, or Civil Protection. This particularly applies in the case of deliveries to nursing homes where nursing staff have the experience necessary to carry out the installation of the oxygen.
- As a last resort and in an emergency, when oxygen cannot be supplied, the patient must be hospitalised.
The FAMHP would like to expressly thank all the actors concerned for their constructive attitude. The beMedTech and Essenscia federations, and the companies they represent, the INAMI and the FPS Public Health, Defence, pharmaceutical associations (APB and OPHACO), and organisations representing nursing and care homes, nursing homes for the elderly and hospitals