Managing home dialysis during a power cut or energy blackout

While winter energy blackouts are unlikely, it is best to be prepared if you are a home dialysis patient. Kidney nurse Sam Bradshaw shares some advice to put your mind at rest.

If you are on home dialysis, talk of blackouts or power cuts will be particularly concerning, but a basic preparation plan for any outages will offer some reassurance.

This article will not cover the medical specifics of your dialysis machine, so speak to your renal (kidney) nurse if you are concerned or have questions about your equipment, or anything else that may be worrying you.

Be assured that your kidney nurse and community team will be able to advise, as Renal Community Team Sister Sam Bradshaw explains.

What to do if there is a power cut or energy blackout

Sam has been a kidney nurse for over 28 years and has been working with home patients for 7 years.

“First thing to say is that I am only one person – always seek advice with your local renal community team. We want to make sure that you have the correct information and are kept up to date on what to do. In the event of an emergency, it is easy to forget what to do,” Sam says.

“It is also important to remember there are differences between each dialysis machine and no two machines are exactly the same. In the event of a power outage, if a patient rang me up, I’d ask them: ‘When did you last dialyse? What is your fluid status?’ I’d look at the patient’s individual prescription, give general advice, and keep it simple – each patient and each machine are different.

“If you’re concerned, simply contact your renal nurse – they will know what to do and will advise you. There are different variables, there is no one size fits all. It’s just about being sensible and having a contingency plan.

“Our job is to empower you, and you always have us as backup. I can’t speak for every hospital unit, but if there was ever an issue at home with a patient, we would accommodate them in the unit. Just remember, keep calm, you’re not on your own, you have your home care team. That’s what we’re there for.”

Be reassured that Kidney Care UK is working with hospitals and kidney networks to develop contingency plans to support their home dialysis patients should they face energy supply challenges.

Contacting your local network operator

In the event of a power cut, do not contact your energy supplier (they are responsible for selling electricity, but they do not maintain power lines). Instead, get in touch with your distributor.

You can call 105 (free of charge) to report a power cut or for information about your local network operator (or call 03457 643643 if you're in Northern Ireland).

Emergency planned power cuts: Energy Network Association advice

National planned power cuts are an unlikely possibility, but if they do happen it is important to know:

  • Energy customers will have no power for at least three hours at a time, once or twice a day.
  • Priority Services Register customers will lose power in an emergency. Being on the Priority Services Register does not offer domestic or commercial customers protection from the national power cuts.
  • Due to the national scale of the power cuts, UK Power Networks cannot supply generators/backup power to customers.

If you use medical equipment that requires power, your kidney team will help you make a personal back-up plan to help you prepare for any power cuts.

Power outages: be PREPARED

P - Priority Services Register

Sign up to the Priority Services Register with your energy and water providers so you will be prioritised in the event of a power outage.

R - Record your status

Contact all your utility providers and ensure they have recorded that you are a home dialysis patient.

E - Emergency contact list

Keep a note of the contact details for your GP, hospital, and home therapies team in a safe and accessible place.

P - Prescriptions and medication

Make sure you have a good supply of any medicines you need to take, and you know where they are, and ensure you have a record of your dialysis treatment prescription.

A – Alerts

Check information for any planned/rolling power outages in your area (you should have advance notice of this) and where possible adjust your dialysis schedule to accommodate this.

R – Relatives or friends

Make sure you have at least one person who knows that you are on home dialysis and who will contact you and check you are ok (or is happy for you to contact them) if you experience a power outage during or when you are due to dialyse.

E – Emergency power cut kit

Put together a small emergency kit. This should contain a first aid kit, a torch with spare working batteries, and a blanket, a hat, and gloves.

D – Don’t panic

You are prepared for this and have a plan. Take a deep breath and try to stay calm.

Download a copy of the Be PREPARED plan

Planning ahead for a power outage

Stay safe and comfortable in the event of a power cut.

  1. Remember that gas boilers, heat pumps, broadband and home phones will not work during a power cut.
  2. Keep your emergency power cut kit topped up with extras. Things like a battery-powered radio can be a great way to pass the time if you’re in a power outage.
  3. Be sure to always have your mobile phone charged if you can and put it on low power mode in the event of a power shortage. Also, if you have a phone power bank, keep it charged.
  4. If you can, have at least one battery powered clock in the house.
  5. British Gas recommend you give your boiler pressure a check-up as the cold weather starts. Your boiler will run best at around 1 to 1.5 bar, and you can check the pressure via the gauge on the front of your unit.
  6. Re-read your dialysis machine’s ‘patient guide’ every so often, to keep the information fresh in your mind.
haemodialysis - managing energy - gas burner

Looking after your home dialysis machine

We know that everyone is experiencing the cold right now, but please do not put your home dialysis at risk.

We have spoken to two major dialysis machine manufacturers – Fresenius and Baxter – for their advice about maintaining a safe temperature for dialysis in your home.

Fresenius recommends operating ambient/room temperature for their automated peritoneal dialysis (APD) and home haemodialysis (HHD) machines is in the 15°C to 35°C range. They reiterate that care should be taken to avoid inadvertent exposure of your dialysis machine to sources of heat such as direct sunlight or radiators.

Fresenius states: “We advise that care is taken when bringing any device from a cooler room into a warmer room, for example moving a machine from a storage location to a room used for treatment. Allow up to three hours for it to adjust to the ambient temperature before switching it on. Be sure to check with your renal nurse for specifics about your machine.”

Baxter explains that their product specification and patient guides indicate the ambient temperature limit for their HHD machine is between 18°C and 35°C and for their APD machine between 15°C and 36°C.

The most important thing to remember is that every home dialysis machine is different. Be sure to check with your kidney team if you have any questions about your treatment, about your machine’s operating temperatures, or anything else.

Battery backups

Most home medical equipment has a battery back-up. However, most dialysis machines are not designed to run on a battery back-up. The patient guide and the operator’s manual for your machine will offer detailed instructions about what you should do in the event of a power cut.

Remember, each machine is different, so contact your kidney nurse for more information.

Baxter explains the procedures for both their APD and HHD machines in the event of a power failure or energy blackout.

For the Baxter APD machine:

  • When a power failure occurs anytime during or after initial drain, the cycler starts operating on the internal battery power, it stops heating and pumping fluid, and the display screen turns off.
  • If power is restored within two hours, the therapy can be restarted from where it left off.
  • If power is not restored within two hours, the therapy is not allowed to continue.

For the Baxter HHD machine:

  • During a power failure the machine has a back-up battery that temporarily provides power for around 30 minutes while the patient discontinues the treatment.
  • All settings and actual values are kept, and the blood pump will continue to operate on battery power, though the heating of the dialysis fluid is not provided.

Baxter recommends communicating with your power suppliers and always working with your kidney unit if you know a power cut is going to last for more than a few hours, or if you find yourself without power. For specific advice about your machine or more information, be sure to contact your kidney team.

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