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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Goa hospital deaths: High Court calls situation grim; dean admits oxygen issues, deaths

The High Court of Bombay at Goa called the situation in the state’s largest coronavirus facility “quite grim”, and said deaths under such conditions are a violation of the fundamental Right to Life.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: May 13, 2021 2:33:34 am
The Finance Secretary told the court that trolleys carrying oxygen cylinders to the hospital were pulled by tractors, and brought from at least 15-20 km away, and hence increasing the supply was difficult.

A DAY after Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant appeared to differ with his Health Minister Vishwajit Rane’s contention that 26 Covid-19 deaths at Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMHC) in the early hours of Tuesday may have been due to oxygen shortage, the High Court of Bombay at Goa called the situation in the state’s largest coronavirus facility “quite grim”, and said deaths under such conditions are a violation of the fundamental Right to Life.

Urging officials to ensure that “tonight, there are no deaths due to oxygen shortage”, the court said, “We are long past the stage of determining whether patients are suffering from the lack of oxygen or not. The material placed before us establishes that patients are indeed suffering and, in some cases, succumbing for want of oxygen in the state of Goa.”

The Finance Secretary told the court that trolleys carrying oxygen cylinders to the hospital were pulled by tractors, and brought from at least 15-20 km away, and hence increasing the supply was difficult.

GMCH Dean Dr S M Bandekar, who on Tuesday said they were still to determine the cause of death of the 26, admitted to oxygen issues and casualties due to it, in an affidavit to the court on Wednesday. “At times there has been a problem with the supply of these trolleys (carrying oxygen cylinders) and loose cylinders as a result of which there have been instances of a drop in supply of oxygen to the patients, which has resulted in casualties,” Bandekar said.

He said GMCH was short of 6.5 MT (metric tonnes) of oxygen on May 11 (the 26 deaths happened from 2-6 am on May 11-12). “We have faced many interruptions in supply of central oxygen on daily basis, leading to near critical fall in oxygen saturations of patients en mass in the intensive care units. The supply of cylinder oxygen that is used for mild/moderate patients has also been deficient and erratic,” the affidavit said.

Wednesday’s virtual hearing stretched for over three hours, with Justices M S Sonak and Nitin Sambre calling for senior officers of the government, along with the Advocate General of Goa who has been arguing on behalf of the state government, to be present. The Finance Secretary, Health Secretary and Urban Development Secretary, who are part of oxygen management in the BJP-ruled state, joined the hearing apart from Bandekar and Dr Viraj Khandeparkar, the Covid-19 nodal officer at GMCH.

“We don’t want tomorrow’s papers to say that there were 26 deaths or 75 deaths for want of oxygen,” Justice Sonak said. Noting that the Constitution guarantees Right to Life to every citizen, he said, “Article 21 will be completely violated if we allow people to die for want of oxygen.”

Bandekar’s affidavit said that while there was no shortage of Liquid Medical Oxygen that is stored in a 20,000-litre tank at the newly opened Super Speciality Block of GMCH, the main building got its supply through cylinders. The doctors said at least 72 trolleys of oxygen are required daily to meet GMCH’s increased demand, as against 50 supplied on Tuesday.

Finance Secretary Puneet Goel said trolleys, each carrying 48 cylinders, come to GMCH from 15-20 km away, and that it was a “bullock-cart system” with tractors towing them.

Health Secretary Ravi Dhawan said Goa had asked the Centre to enhance its oxygen allocation from 26 MT to 40 MT.

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