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13 deaths within hours trigger panic in Tamil Nadu over oxygen shortage

A preliminary inquiry by district collector A John Louis found that the deaths were not due to oxygen shortage. "Oxygen supply was not interrupted at the hospital. I was there on the field last night and personally monitored the situation," Louis said.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
May 6, 2021 3:54:23 am
india covid second wave, Chengalpattu Government Hospital, Chengalpattu hospital deaths, Chengalpattu news, Chengalpattu Covid cases, Indian Express

The death of 13 critically ill patients at Chengalpattu Government Medical College Hospital, south of Chennai, within a span of 24 hours on Tuesday triggered panic following some reports that it was due to oxygen shortage, even as the government said there was no shortage as of 6 pm Tuesday, when reports last came in.

The deceased were between 40 and 85 years, doctors at the hospital said.

Sources in the hospital said there was a shortage of oxygen for a brief while due to the delay in oxygen delivery even as the state government ordered a probe to find out whether oxygen shortage led to the death of all 13 patients.

Tamil Nadu Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan told The Indian Express that there was adequate quantity of oxygen according to records at 6 pm Tuesday.

“What happened later is being probed,” he said. “We need to ascertain reasons for death. All 13 patients who died were from different blocks and wards in the hospital. None of them were Covid-19 patients; neither were they being treated for Severe Acute Respiratory Infections.”

While calls to a dozen medical colleges in the state, including the major ones in Chennai and Madurai, confirmed that there was no shortage of oxygen at present, Radhakrishnan said there is a crisis in private hospitals. “All government hospitals have adequate supplies of oxygen now; private hospitals are in crisis – that is a fact. We are in the process of bringing them under a unified command centre for oxygen supply and distribution.”

He said that a solution “to this crisis can be found only if the revised allocation is approved by the Centre (through the National Medical Oxygen Allotment)”.

Tamil Nadu’s daily average demand for oxygen is 440 kilolitres (kl) , and Radhakrishnan said the Centre had “wrongly” calculated it at 230 kl. “Now they (Centre) have agreed to correct it and give (us) 475 kl. But approval and allocation is delayed. There is no concrete solution for this crisis until then (when the revised allocation arrives),” Radhakrishnan said.

Senior doctors at Chengalpattu Medical College, where the 13 deaths were reported, said not all deaths were due to oxygen shortage but that there were issues in oxygen supply. “It could be partially technical. Even if there is supply and allocation, pressure fluctuations and other technical issues (can) also turn dangerous,” a senior surgeon at the hospital said. “It is also about management.”

“There were also allegations that oxygen meant for us was being diverted to private hospitals, and that caused the delay. We do not know about that,” this surgeon added.

A preliminary inquiry by district collector A John Louis found that the deaths were not due to oxygen shortage. “Oxygen supply was not interrupted at the hospital. I was there on the field last night and personally monitored the situation,” Louis said.

Meanwhile, multiple sources at several private hospitals in the state reported that the oxygen crisis is worsening in private hospitals for the last few days, and that many smaller health facilities are forced to discharge patients, given lack of oxygen supply.

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