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Oxygen shortage rings alarm bells at Delhi’s hospitals

There are 17,752 beds for Covid patients in the capital, out of which 2,824 are available. On the other hand, of the 4,147 ICU beds, only 48 are available. The surge in bed occupancy has meant an increase in the need for uninterrupted oxygen supply.

Written by Astha Saxena , Mallica Joshi | News Delhi |
Updated: April 18, 2021 11:13:05 pm
Health workers in PPE suits treat Covid-19 patients at an isolation center in New Delhi on Saturday.

With Delhi reporting close to 25,000 cases of Covid-19 in a day, hospitals in the city are grappling with depleting oxygen supply, with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also acknowledging on Sunday that “oxygen has become an emergency in Delhi”.

There are 17,752 beds for Covid patients in the capital, out of which 2,824 are available. On the other hand, of the 4,147 ICU beds, only 48 are available. The surge in bed occupancy has meant an increase in the need for uninterrupted oxygen supply.

For instance, there are 1,500 beds at the Delhi government’s Lok Nayak Hospital and all are full at the moment. According to sources, the demand for oxygen has gone up by five times over the last few days. “Since we are mostly catering to patients with low oxygen levels, we need oxygen on each bed. On an average, a patient requires 40/60 litres of oxygen per minute. Due to the high demand in the last few days, the pressure of oxygen supply has also reduced. The healthcare system will collapse if supply is not increased in the coming days,” said a senior doctor from the hospital requesting anonymity.

In a letter to Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Kejriwal has asked him to ensure uninterrupted supply of 700 metric tonnes of oxygen in the city on a daily basis.

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Dr B L Sherwal, medical director of Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, said: “The constraint on the hospital’s existing oxygen supply has certainly gone up. The central oxygen supply which runs through the liquid medical oxygen has to be refilled on a daily basis with the increase in patient load. The continuous pressure on oxygen has led to reduced pressure, which can lead to trouble in case of patients who are to be put on high flow oxygen supply.” The hospital has 650 beds for Covid patients and 200 are available at the moment.

Delhi’s positivity rate has also continued its upward climb, with 30 per cent of the tests conducted over the past 24 hours returning positive for Covid-19, Kejriwal said. On Saturday, this figure was around 24 per cent.

“We are running out of ICU beds and, all included, we have less than 100 left at present. Oxygen is running out too. A private hospital told us yesterday that they had almost run out but tragedy was averted. We are asking the Centre for help and getting it. We thank them for it,” Kejriwal said.

Recently, to augment bed capacity, the Delhi government had attached hotels and banquets with 23 private hospitals in the city. As per the directives, the hospitals concerned were required to provide oxygen supply either in the form of concentrators or cylinders. However, with the shortage of oxygen supply, hospitals have not been able to start services at many of these hotels.

“We are unable to take more patients in the hospital due to an acute shortage of oxygen. We have not even been able to take over the hotel as suggested by the government. Patients are running from pillar to post and we are feeling helpless as nothing much can be done about it. Some hospitals faced this problem in November last year but since then nothing has been done,” said Dr P K Bharadwaj, director of Saroj Super Speciality hospital.

Kejriwal said he spoke to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan last evening and Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday morning and informed them that the national capital is facing a shortage of oxygen and beds. “Centre has around 10,000 beds in its hospitals and at present, around 1,800 have been reserved for Covid patients. We request that at least 7,000 beds be reserved at a time like this and oxygen be supplied soon. At our level, we are arranging around 6,000 oxygen beds in the next few days. The number of ICU beds that can be increased has a limit, so we are arranging high flow oxygen beds as many patients need just that. Some of these beds will come up at the Radha Soami Centre in Chhatarpur, which is being restarted. Some beds will also be put up in schools that will be attached to hospitals,” Kejriwal said.

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