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Delivering major projects to help the NHS continue caring for the local community during Covid-19

Serco is proud to support the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust as their facilities management partner for the Great Western Hospital (GWH).

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trust was awarded funding to improve the resilience of its vacuum insulated evaporator (VIE) system, which delivers oxygen to patients on ventilators and respiration medical devices throughout the hospital.

Serco was involved from conception of the project, informing the optimal system setup, leading and driving with tight timescales and challenges faced in providing oxygen to patients whilst connecting in the new systems.

Terry Chalker is Serco’s Head of Projects at GWH, leading a team who deliver key infrastructure projects to support service and clinical capacity.

“There’s been a lot of investment and large-scale projects in recent years,” says Terry. “We’ve installed new scanners for magnetic resonance imaging and computerised tomography, new x-ray machines with upgraded rooms, and a new endoscopy room. In 2022 we’re working on a new high voltage substation.”

Throughout the pandemic, Terry and his team helped manage the impacts of Covid-19, relocating wards and making other alterations that enabled the hospital to continue to function. Their greatest challenge was the new VIE installation.

In late 2020, a sudden opportunity arose for the hospital to secure funding from the UK Government. The Serco team worked with the Trust to win the funding, beating strong competition with a compelling business case.

“The hospital already had one VIE,” says Terry, “but Covid was pushing it close to capacity. We had processes in place to mitigate the risks, but beyond our maximum threshold, we would have had to transfer patients elsewhere.”

With the funding secured, Terry and the wider Serco team immediately stepped up to install the second VIE on the other side of the hospital. Engineers, Medical Gas Personnel, Estates and Compliance Teams – a wide range of Serco technical expertise was assembled to support every step of the project.

A huge amount of work was required from start to finish, but the most challenging aspect of the project were the oxygen shutdowns:

“There were more than ten shutdowns during the project,” Terry explains. “Each involved shutting off the oxygen supply to whole areas of the hospital for up to 12 hours. All shutdowns, such as for the intensive care unit, which typically draws 200 litres of oxygen per minute, were carefully planned and managed. We backfed the wards with oxygen cylinders and had teams watching the cylinders to monitor and maintain the supply.”

There were no incidents during the shutdowns and the entire project was delivered on time and without clinical impact.

It’s working well, and everyone is very pleased,” says Terry. “We’ve doubled the oxygen capacity on site and the second VIE will come online automatically if the first should ever fail, all of which increases resilience and autonomy for the hospital. It also means that GWH can now also operate as a hub to support other surrounding hospitals.”

Terry attributes the success of the project to, “a strong supply chain, strong engagement with our customer – being open, honest and organised, setting realistic expectations and maintaining clear communication – and a strong team who all work well together and are all very good at what they do.”

For Terry, his work on projects such as the VIE installation is more than a matter of professional pride:

“I’m local to the hospital. Working with the NHS to help make it easier for them to make a difference for the local community – that’s something I take immense satisfaction in.”