The death of at least 11 COVID-19 patients due to shortage in oxygen supply in Sri Venkateswara Ramnarayan Ruia (SVRR) government hospital in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, has exposed the lapses in management of medical oxygen supply to COVID hospitals by officials. At least 29 COVID-19 patients have succumbed due to shortage in oxygen supply in various parts of the state in the past three weeks.
According to relatives of some patients in Ruia Hospital, oxygen supply got interrupted to patients in ICUs for more than 25 minutes during which time the tragedy took place. However, government officials claimed that disruption in oxygen supply was only for a few minutes.
Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy has directed district officials to probe the incident.
Reportedly, there was high tension near the premises of the hospital for several hours, as relatives of the deceased patients protested the lack of response from the hospital’s management. Around 10 p.m on Monday, an oxygen tanker from Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur reached the hospital and oxygen supply was restored.
On May 1, as many as 16 COVID-19 patients died in two hospitals in Anantapur and Kurnool districts with complaints of shortage in oxygen supply. A total of 11 patients died in Anantapur Government General Hospital reportedly due to low pressure in the oxygen pipeline. On that day, while 21 COVID-19 patients died in the hospitals, according to the relatives of the deceased, the doctors themselves confirmed that there was low pressure in the oxygen supply system that resulted in the fatalities.
In Kurnool, five COVID-19 patients succumbed in a private hospital allegedly due to lack of oxygen supply. Later, it was revealed that the hospital has been functioning without obtaining the requisite permission. District police has registered a case against the hospital management.
On April 26, two COVID patients died due to technical issues in oxygen supply at the Maharaj Government Hospital in Vizianagaram.
“The Management of Ruia Hospital must be held responsible for the deaths due to oxygen shortage,” said Murali, All Ijdia Trade Union Congress leader in Tirupati. On Tuesday, the Communist Party of India and affiliated trade unions held a protest rally in front of the hospital, demanding ex gratia of Rs 25 lakh for the deceased families.
According to local newspapers, complaints of oxygen shortage are being reported from across all 13 districts in the state. While the state government is currently distributing oxygen to 146 hospitals equipped with oxygen pipelines, delay in the distribution process appears to be causing shortages in hospitals.
There are three producers of medical oxygen in Andhra Pradesh -- Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL) (or Vizag steel plant), Ellen Berries in Visakhapatnam and Liquinox at Srikakulam. The state also gets medical oxygen from suppliers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha.
IAS officer Shan Mohan Sagili, who is leading the management of oxygen supply control room recently told The News Minute: “The turnaround time for vehicles is at least four days. To transport 150 metric tonnes per day seamlessly, we would need 30 to 40 tankers of around 20 metric tonne capacity. It’s difficult to arrange so many cryogenic tankers at this point. We are considering other options, to see if it’s possible to cut down on turnaround time.”
The storage capacity of various forms of medical oxygen across districts in the state is up to 515 tonnes.
“In these critical times, the state government must take responsibility to coordinate with hospitals and suppliers for better management of oxygen supply,” said Rohith, a doctor based in Tirupati.