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Panaji: Fifteen patients at state-run Goa Medical College and Hospital died allegedly of oxygen shortage early on Thursday despite high court directives to shore up supplies, barely two days after 26 people succumbed to low oxygen flow at the state’s premier hospital.
Oxygen levels dropped between 2am and 6am on Thursday morning and 15 people lost their lives, hospital authorities told the Bombay high court at Goa, a day after the judges asked the government to do whatever it takes to ensure no deaths occur due to oxygen shortages for “at least one night”.
“Around 15 people lost their lives last night between 2am and 6am at GMC the hours during which the oxygen levels have been dropping for every night for the last five days or so,” the hospital told the court via Advocate General Devidas Pangam.
On Tuesday, 26 patients being treated for Covid 19 died between 2am and 6am with Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane saying the hospital got only a third of the 1,200 oxygen cylinders required and pushing for a probe by the high court.
Oxygen shortages were reported in multiple wards of the GMC that are set aside for treating Covid patients on Wednesday night with the situation being a repeat of the previous four days when oxygen also ran out.
“Despite raising SOSes, police and health dept officials reaching GMC in the wee hours of the night after the alarm of oxygen fluctuations in the central pipeline was raised, 15 people died last night. Again,” tweeted Shruti Chaturvedi, one of the petitioners.
Medical college dean Dr Shivanand Bandekar said not all the deaths could be attributed to dropping oxygen pressure. The dean had earlier admitted to shortages and said that shortages could also claim patient’s lives in the long term.
“Reduced oxygen saturation lasting for a significant duration causes tissue hypoxia and irreversible tissue damage. This is worse in the presence of comorbidities and old age. The death following such hypoxemia and organ hypoxia may be immediate, or most of the time after some period of time,” he said.
Critical patients will be shifted out of wards witnessing low oxygen pressure and moved to a newly commissioned block where the supply is steady, he added.
The health department told the court that oxygen levels dropped because of “logistical issues involved in maneuvering the tractor that carries the trolleys of oxygen and in connecting the cylinders to the manifold”.
“During this process there was some interruption, which resulted in fall of pressure in the supply lines of oxygen to the patients. Basically on account of these factors some casualties may have taken place,” the advocate general told the court.
The oxygen shortage at the premier hospital signals a fresh crisis for the coastal state where every second person tested for Covid is found positive this week. The state posted 2,491 fresh cases and 63 deaths on Thursday.
GMC, which that is handling more patients than its bed capacity, delivers oxygen in two ways — 700 regular beds are supplied through a central pipeline, and 250 additional beds set up during the pandemic are tended to by loose cylinders that need to be replaced and refilled. Bandekar told the court on Wednesday the hospital was facing a shortage of 6.5 metric tonne (MT) of oxygen per day, and that supply was not being augmented.
On Wednesday, the high court warned the hospital authorities and state government, saying the right to life was a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, which placed a duty on the State to ensure that life was not extinguished on account of its inability to supply oxygen. . “This duty can neither be avoided by pleading helplessness nor by putting forth logistical difficulties in sourcing and supplying oxygen,” the court said.
For five straight days, oxygen pressure has dropped at the hospital during the same early morning hour, which the court now begun to refer to as ‘dark hours.’
On Thursday, relatives of patients raised an alarm as soon as oxygen levels started falling, and the police and health department staff were called in to try and rectify the issue. But it was several hours before the supply was stablised, leaving those admitted facing potential organ damage that could have lasting effects even if they recover.
Relatives complained that the pressure was running low for several days and patients were left to fend for themselves. “My sister Laura Fernandes is admitted in GMC hospital, Goa with severe pneumonia. She has been admitted on May 7, She is fighting for her life, while her two young kids are waiting for their mother to come home. The first few nights at the hospital were frightening as the oxygen ran low at night and patients were dying during this time,” Christine Fernandes said.
“We got a cylinder from then on May 11, but no doctors were willing to help fix it. My brother in law went home on May 12, got his tools and fixed the cylinder by himself,” she added.
A police complaint was filed against Rane, accusing him of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for failing to ensure adequate supply of oxygen to the state’s premier institute. “Goa’s oxygen shortage is man-made and the brain child of Vishwajit Rane and the supplier,” the complaint filed by Bento Lorena, also a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said. Rane also belongs to BJP, which rules the state.