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UP Child Deaths: Govt Denies Charge, But Reports Suggest Hospital Had Acute Oxygen Shortage

Vendors had cut supply after repeated payment requests.

12/08/2017 10:10 AM IST | Updated 12/08/2017 10:34 AM IST
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A relative mourns the death of a child outside Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur district of the Indian northern state Uttar Pradesh on August 11, 2017.

Soon after reports emerged that 30 children have died in a Gorakhpur hospital owing to shortage of oxygen, Uttar Pradesh government took to Twitter to quash these allegations. Tweets from the handle asserted that no one has died in Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College because of lack of oxygen.

First, the government said that no deaths were caused in the medical college and hospital due to shortage of oxygen. They then added that news reports claiming anything to that effect were erroneous.

However, various reports published today claimed that the medical college was suffering from an acute shortage of oxygen. The Indian Express accessed the hospital's records which accounted for 60 deaths in the paediatric ward between August 7 and August 11. On August 10, 23 children died in the hospital, the records show.

Meanwhile, it was found that Pushpa Sales, the company that supplied oxygen to the hospital, had warned the hospital authorities on August 1 in a letter that they'd be compelled to cut supply if the outstanding dues of Rs 69 lakh were not cleared. According to a report on DNA, sales manager Deepak Sharma wrote to the hospital August 1 that they will discontinue oxygen supply within 4-5 days if the dues were not paid.

Pushpa Sales, the DNA report mentions, sourced oxygen from a Dehradun-based plant. This oxygen is stored in a tank built in the hospital premises and supplies piped oxygen to over 300 patients, apart from the ones in the encephalitis ward. It was the supply to this plant that was disrupted because of non-payment of dues.

The letter also stated that the company didn't want to cut supply but will be forced to do so since the Dehradun supplier may be unwilling to continue business with them without immediate payment. The company told DNA that they had written to the Director-General of Medical Education and Gorakhpur's District Magistrate to no avail.

However, Gorakhpur District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela told The Indian Express that Pushpa Sales stopping supply did not affect the hospital's oxygen consumption at all. "As far as the complaint regarding non-payment of dues to the company supplying the oxygen is concerned, it is a matter of inquiry. But there was existing alternative arrangement of 50 oxygen cylinders which was being used, so there was no shortage of oxygen in the hospital," he said. It is not clear what the capacity of the liquid oxygen plant is and if the available oxygen cylinders were enough to cover for it.

A report on Hindustan Times indicates that the cylinders weren't enough. Mentioning how patients collapsed 'one after another' as oxygen supply acted up, the report indicates that the cylinders barely managed to address the oxygen requirements of the hospital for even a few hours. Providing a detailed breakdown of oxygen usage in the hospital, the report states that 90 jumbo oxygen cylinders were pressed into service but they ran out at 1am on Friday.

"As all hell broke loose at the hospital, as many as 50 more oxygen cylinders were brought in around 3.30 am, which also ran dry by 7.30 am. Of the 73 patients in the 100-bed encephalitis ward, 54 were on ventilator when the oxygen supply was disrupted at 7.30 am," the report states. As the hospital ran out of oxygen, reportedly, the staff, accompanied by the patients' kin, tried to provide artificial respiration using AMBU (artificial manual breathing unit) bags.

Conflicting reports state after the supply was cut due to non-payment, the hospital scrambled to initiate the process to making a part-payment. While some reports claim a payment of Rs 22 lakh to the vendors was initiated, others claim that a payment of Rs 35 lakh was made after the supply was disrupted. The company had committed to sending oxygen tankers to fill the oxygen plant in the hospital and it was due to reach Gorakhpur on August 12 or 13. DNA reports that Rautela had commented that the payment of Rs 35 lakh was 'released' but 'perhaps it did not reach its accounts'.

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