Six patients of Covid-19 died at the ICU ward of Shahdol Medical College early on Sunday, allegedly due to shortage of oxygen.
Thirteen Covid patients have died in the hospital in the 24 hours up to 6 pm on Sunday.
Alarm bells started ringing at the hospital around 10 pm on Saturday after the pressure of liquid medical oxygen in the tank that supplies to the hospital’s ICU unit dropped.
The medical college had asked for a refill, and was expecting the tank to be topped up at 11 pm, but the oxygen truck coming from the manufacturing plant was stuck at Damoh, some 240 km away.
College Dean Dr Milind Shiralkar said the hospital has a system of directly supplying oxygen to its various units from a tank on the premises. As the level in the tank started to run critically low, staff pressed the 245-odd jumbo cylinders at the hospital into use.
He confirmed “six deaths of critically ill Covid-positive patients in the wee hours of Sunday”, but said it “cannot be ascertained whether they were because of a drop in oxygen supply, as the hospital has a stock of jumbo oxygen cylinders which were pushed into use as the pressure of liquid medical oxygen dropped”.
Dr Shiralkar reasoned that “If low oxygen supply was the reason of deaths, the deaths would have been at a much larger scale since at present the hospital has at least 62 patients in its ICU unit alone and a total of 255 Covid-positive patients undergoing treatment.”
Dr Shiralkar said the hospital’s oxygen tank had been filled to less than 50 per cent of its capacity on the past two occasions. The district administration has now procured oxygen cylinders from adjoining Balaghat, and the medical college now has around 550 jumbo oxygen cylinders.
The hospital finally received an oxygen refill at 3 pm on Sunday. Shahdol Collector Satyendra Singh told The Indian Express: “According to the driver, as the tankers are coming from far off places, they have been instructed by INOX (the supplier) to not drive late at night.”
Prem Keswani, brother of one of the patients who died in the hospital, told reporters: “My brother Shravan Keswani was recovering and his oxygen level was at 90. At 4 am suddenly, there was a commotion that oxygen had run out. We wanted to go inside the ICU but were not allowed to. When we finally made our way in, all the bodies were lying cold. They had just died gasping for breath.”
As cases and hospitalisations have surged, Madhya Pradesh has witnessed a steep rise in demand for medical oxygen – consumption increased from 64 tonnes on March 22 to 179 tonnes on April 7 to 234 tonnes on the very next day, April 8.
On Saturday, the state had 63,889 active cases, and its oxygen demand was 330 tonnes; this was expected to rise to 440 tonnes by April 20.
Madhya Pradesh does not have its own production facility for oxygen. It is currently procuring oxygen from various plants of the private sector INOX Air Products, and has also tied up with Bhilai Steel Plant.
The rising numbers of Covid patients in Shahdol, and in the neighbouring districts of Annupur, Umaria, Mandla, and Dindori have put severe pressure on the medical college, which is facing an acute shortage of both doctors and support staff.