GREAT Western Hospital is trying to claw back almost £160,000 after a generator cock-up left wards without power for 42 minutes.

The power outage wiped out the Marlborough Road hospital’s IT systems, left doctors unable to order scans and x-rays for three hours and forced pharmacists to print out scores of medicine charts after online systems went down.

And in an eight-page report prepared for GWH executives this month, hospital facilities contractor Serco was roasted for apparently failing to check the generators.

Executives were told that an insurance claim had been submitted through the PFI hospital’s owner, The Hospital Group, to try and get back £158,000 spent on overtime bills and improving IT systems following the power cut.

The incident was initially sparked by a routine test of the hospital’s power system at the end of January, switching from mains electricity to generators. An issue with a switchgear component, designed to isolate electrical equipment, prevented contractors Serco from switching back to mains supply.

Two days later, as snow tucked Swindon under a blanket of white powder, the generators failed. A pump supplying fuel had tripped. The usual pump should have switched over to a reserve pump, but this had not been installed correctly.

In a report for hospital executives, GWH associate director of quality Daniel Badman and Rupert Turk, director of estates and facilities, said: “The trust and its own independent expert would have expected the generators to have been visually checked on a regular basis throughout their run time.

“Serco has provided no evidence to suggest this happened. Serco (and its own expert) believed it was acceptable to rely on the various automated alarms reporting back through the Building Management System to the engineers in another part of the building was sufficient. This is not the trust’s or the trust expert’s view on acceptable practice.”

Alarms went ignored and, due to how the system had been set up, an automatic text message sent to the on-call engineer failed to register as a high priority.

Luckily, a back-up battery system meant power was not lost in operating theatres, intensive care and the special care baby unit. However, some machines designed to help patients with lung disease breathe more easily went down as a result of the power cut. Bells for patients to call nurses went down and the telephone system failed, meaning wards were unable to call each other. However, no patients came to harm, GWH said.

Since the power cut, Serco had introduced temporary measures to ensure the incident could not happen again. The contractor and The Hospital Company, which owns the GWH building under a PFI deal, would be reviewing any potential weak points in the hospital systems.

Mr Badman and Mr Turk praised the efforts of staff: “This incident required the sterling efforts of staff across the organisation and our PFI partners over many days during a period when we were also contending with snow.”

A spokesman for Serco said: “We accept the findings within the report that relate to Serco. Since the incident in February, we have been working in partnership with the trust and are pleased to see that the report acknowledges that we have put the necessary actions and resiliencies in place to ensure that a similar incident does not re-occur.”