During the second wave, an unidentified number of COVID-19 patients died at a hospital in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, due to “insufficient oxygen being provided,” the centre informed Parliament on Tuesday. In response to a question from Telugu Desam Party MP K Ravindra Kumar in the Rajya Sabha, junior Health Minister Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar said state government statistics suggested: “several patients” perished in the time between the main tank being refilled and the hospital switching to its backup supply.
“According to the preliminary report, the time between the levelling out of the 10KL oxygen tank and the turning on of this hospital’s backup manifold system resulted in a drop in pressure in the oxygen lines,” Dr Pawar explained.
“The decline in oxygen line pressure resulted in insufficient oxygen being supplied for the patients who were mostly on ventilator support,” she explained in her response.
The deaths had a place at Tirupati’s Sri Venkateswara Ramnarayan Ruia Hospital, according to the junior Health Minister, who did not specify when they occurred. However, 11 patients died at the SVRR Hospital after the oxygen supply was stopped in May when the second Covid wave was at its peak and hospitals were trying to locate beds and supplies. The commotion within hospital wards as medical workers battled to save lives was caught in disturbing visuals.
Patients’ families said that the oxygen supply had been cut off for about 45 minutes at the time. However, M Hari Narayanan, the Chittoor District Collector, stated that “there was a five-minute lag in reloading the oxygen cylinder, which caused the pressure to drop, resulting in the deaths.”
Dr Pawar told the Rajya Sabha last month that “no deaths due to shortage of oxygen were reported” during the second COVID-19 wave, causing a huge uproar. The declaration sparked shouts of outrage, with opponents citing social media petitions and court lawsuits filed by hospitals desperate for help for oxygen-dependent patients.
“It is simply incorrect to claim that no one died as a result of the oxygen shortage. Why were hospitals filing urgent petitions in the High Court on a daily basis?” Satyendar Jain, the Delhi Health Minister, retaliated.
The centre replied by instructing states and UTs to submit statistics on mortality caused by a shortage of oxygen; the data will be compiled and given to Parliament, according to the centre. So far, Andhra Pradesh is one of only two states to report deaths caused by a lack of oxygen; the other is Punjab, which reported four deaths “suspected” to be caused by a lack of oxygen. One of the more distressing issues from the second wave was a shortage of medical oxygen, with individuals and hospitals pleading for help on social media and in court.
A doctor was among 12 people who died after oxygen supplies ran out at a private hospital in Delhi. Another hospital reported 25 deaths. Over 80 people perished in a state-run medical institution in Goa. The government has claimed that the ‘short of supply’ was caused by a transportation difficulty, rather than a production issue because the gas had to be moved from where it was produced to where it was needed.
The shortage was severe enough, however, that the centre was forced to import oxygen, scramble to put up additional manufacturing plants, and seek assistance from other countries in setting up emergency facilities.