NHS England business continuity management toolkit case study: electricity failure

Organisation: Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Incident: electricity failure

What happened

On a Thursday morning the hospital suffered a mains power failure in its internal electrical supply. Emergency power, supplied by generators, remained but the hospital was unable to accept elective or emergency patients. Engineers were called and attended the site and the supply was rectified. The power was stabilised in early evening the same day.

Action taken

The on-call structure was alerted. Command and control was put in place and an initial meeting held. The battle rhythm for the briefing meetings was set for hourly.

The High Voltage (HV) engineers (contractors) had been called to assist the internal HV Authorised Engineers and it was anticipated that a 4-hour downtime was required to locate the fault.

All outpatient appointments were cancelled for the day. Patients scheduled for Theatre were cancelled. 2 patients had been anaesthetised in theatres and had to be woken up without having had their procedure. Theatre and endoscopy procedures that were in progress were to be completed, but no new cases were to begin. No harm came to any of the patients.

A full ambulance divert was put in place with patients being diverted to the other local hospitals. The Emergency Department (ED) was also closed to walk-ins. All relevant partners were contacted and informed.

Lessons identified

A number of lessons were identified:

1. All staff need to be aware which equipment and areas are connected to emergency
power supplies. There should be a process for confirming that equipment is appropriately connected and which equipment is connected to the non-essential electrical supply.
2. All staff need an awareness of IT downtime processes and paper-based procedures to be implemented should a power outage occur. Ownership and maintenance of paper- based downtime packs needs to be clear.
3. Regular communication to staff (including contractors) is very important and should be maintained as part of the communications strategy, even without electricity. This should include when the end to an incident is declared and business as usual is resumed.
4. Entering data back onto an IT system following downtime needs to be included in the downtime plan.
5. Communication with external partners is important so that they understand the implications of the incident on the organisation’s ability to deliver services.
6. Grab pack are useful on wards with items such as torches and batteries in, but ownership and maintenance needs to be clear.
7. A review of what is plugged in and working when only emergency power is available, can have the benefit of freeing up plug sockets if some equipment is not needed at any particular point in time.
8. Support from the ambulance service provider was important in managing the flow into and from the hospital.
9. Doors which are usually locked fail-safe (ie open) without electricity. Some of these required manned checkpoints to be established at them.
10.Those managing the incident need to be relieved of other duties so they can focus on the task in hand. They also need to be appropriately supported in the Incident Control Centre (ICC).