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For third day in a row, hospitals in Delhi scramble for oxygen

Around 28 hospitals, both Delhi government-run and private, raised an alarm over scarcity of oxygen supply as they struggled to manage patients with just oxygen cylinders.

Written by Astha Saxena | New Delhi |
Updated: April 23, 2021 10:45:35 am
At LNJP hospital in New Delhi.

Frantically calling authorities as oxygen supply ran low, rushing to arrange oxygen cylinders and moving court – for the third day in a row, several hospitals across the city were pushed to the edge as they tried to manage the emergency situation.

Around 28 hospitals, both Delhi government-run and private, raised an alarm over scarcity of oxygen supply as they struggled to manage patients with just oxygen cylinders. While many top private hospitals like Max, Apollo, Sir Ganga Ram and Fortis had spoken of the crisis on Wednesday, the next line of hospitals with relatively lesser numbers of Covid patients have started to face the heat on Thursday.

Worried over acute shortage of oxygen supply, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan alleging that tankers carrying oxygen were not able to reach hospitals in the city as they were being stalled by police and officials in UP and Haryana.

“Police and senior officials of the administration in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are stalling tankers carrying oxygen, delaying them from reaching Delhi hospitals on time. I urge you to ensure that oxygen allocated for Delhi by the Centre reaches there without any delay to save the lives of patients,” Sisodia said in the letter.

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Data shared by Sisodia in his letter stated that six out of 22 hospitals in the city had run out of oxygen supply. However, supply was replenished to the hospitals by evening.

Scenes of panic as supply dwindles

At Metro hospital & Cancer Institute in Preet Vihar, the entire day was spent in pleading with officials to stock up on oxygen supply. By 3.30 pm on Thursday, there was no more oxygen for the hospital’s 100 Covid patients, leaving it with no option but to discharge them.

Family members of COVID-19 patients wait outside an oxygen-filling center to refill their empty cylinders, as demand for the gas rises due to spike in coronovirus cases, at Mayapuri in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Renuka Puri)

“We have started the process of shifting patients from the hospital. Even those admitted in the ICU are being released and transferred to our other centres in Noida, Shadipur and Faridabad,” said a senior officer from the hospital at 8 pm.

A hospital generally runs on liquid medical oxygen supply which is transported to every patient via the central oxygen pipeline installed in the hospital building. As backup, most hospitals keep oxygen cylinders but these are used only in an emergency.

Dr Sumit Ray, medical superintendent of Holy Family hospital in Okhla, said: “It is death within minutes for most patients if oxygen supply stops. Because of the delay on Wednesday, many hospitals were affected. We were supposed to receive oxygen supply at 7 am, but our tanker was diverted to another hospital that was facing a crisis. We have to provide beds to 275 Covid patients and we have stretched it to 385 beds; almost 70-80% are either on ventilators or on oxygen support. If oxygen stops, almost 80% patients will die. We have kept oxygen cylinders on those extra beds to manage patients. The cylinders are also being continuously filled up. We are planning to discharge patients who are not on oxygen support.”

Officials at several hospitals said they have barely slept in the last three days, worrying about managing patients the next day.

For Saroj Super Speciality hospital in Rohini, which has 130 Covid patients, the struggle to get oxygen supply began early on Thursday before it finally knocked on the doors of Delhi High Court for a solution.

“Supply reached us by Thursday afternoon, so a crisis has been averted for a few more hours. We have supply to last till Friday evening – we will have to get into the drill once again tomorrow,” said Dr PK Bharadwaj, hospital medical director.

Most hospitals claimed tankers have not been able to reach them. At Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute in Paschim Vihar, supply was restocked by the evening.

“We are in a very difficult situation. All hospitals in the city are facing the same problem and we are worried about our patients. There are 220 Covid patients in the hospital, of which 80 are in the ICU. Those admitted in the ICU need continuous high flow of the oxygen; the rest who are in the wards also need oxygen,” said medical director Dr Rajiv Bansal.

Sir Ganga Ram hospital too hit the panic button at 8 pm after officials found out that the supply will last till 1 am.

“At present, 510 Covid patients are admitted – 142 of them are on high flow oxygen support. We need urgent oxygen supplies at the hospital. Oxygen in store will last for five hours for peripheral use till 1 am,” said a senior doctor from the hospital.

However, the hospital was promised that supply will be replenished before 1 am. “The Delhi government has promised that supply will be refilled before 1 am and they will deliver 2,000 cubic metres that will help for three-four hours. We are also awaiting supplies from INOX,” said Dr D S Rana, chairman of the hospital’s board.

At VIMHANS, doctors waited for oxygen tankers from INOX as liquid medical oxygen supply was over by 10.30 pm. There are 143 Covid patients admitted in the hospital. Dr Ubaid Hamid, medical superintendent of the hospital, told The Indian Express: “Oxygen tankers arrived at 11 pm. Till then, we managed patients on oxygen cylinders. The situation is under control for a while.”

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