The death due to disruption in oxygen supply of four patients on ventilators at the Sushruta Trauma Centre in North Delhi, brings home the appalling state of affairs in our health care system. What is even more traumatising is the fact that these lives could well have been saved if only the hospital staff had followed up on the sudden fall in oxygen pressure, noticed twice at the operation theatre the previous day. That would have revealed that, barring one, all the 21 cylinders were empty and only one untrained helper was in charge of the vital oxygen supply system.
Shocking as it may be, this is not an isolated case in our country. In the second week of July this year, the nurses union of the Kochi Co-operative Medical College hospital had alleged that three patients in the ICU had died on account of shortage of oxygen. Even though two committees that probed the allegations discounted it, their investigations did expose gaping holes in the management of the oxygen supply system in the hospital.
Similarly, when three patients under intensive care at the MDM Hospital in Jodhpur died last September, the cause of death was suspected to be the sudden drop of pressure in the supply lines. Even though an enquiry team denied any direct link between the fall in oxygen pressure and the death of three patients, the team found fault with the way the hospital managed the life saving gas supply and recommended action against three personnel and the gas supply contractor.
Again in July and August this year, Sri Venkateswara Ramnarain Ruia Government General Hospital in Tirupati had come under attack for its dismal management of oxygen supply at the hospital, particularly about the absence of technicians to ensure efficient and continuous supply.
Oxygen is a critical component of patient care and hospitals not only need to maintain a constant and uninterrupted supply, but also ensure that patients get this life saving gas in correct concentration and pressure. Even a slight error here could lead to serious complications and even death.
Yet, hospitals are taking this aspect of patient care and safety lightly. A report in this newspaper about plumbing equipment fitters (and not rained technicians) from an outsourced oxygen supply agency manning the gas manifold department at the Civil Hospital in Gurgaon confirms this further.
It's time the union health ministry called for an independent audit of oxygen management in all government hospitals in the country and ensured that robust and foolproof systems are put in place to prevent oxygen-related traumas or deaths.
Consumers should also question the hospitals (particularly the privately run ones) that they visit about this important aspect of patient safety and care.
Anuradha Rawat: Can the families of patients who died at Sushruta Trauma Centre go to the consumer court and get compensation from the hospital or the oxygen supply contractor? That is, in addition
to what the government has already paid.
Answer: If the service provided by the trauma centre is not absolutely free, then they can go to the consumer court and seek not just damages, but exemplary damages. Otherwise, they will have to file a civil suit for compensation. In Indian Medical Association Vs V.P.Shantha, the Supreme court held that government hospitals that render free service to all patients (rich and poor), do not come under the purview of the consumer courts. However, if the hospital is charging for the services — even if it is only from the rich and rendering free service to the poor — it will become answerable to the consumer courts. And in such a situation even those who receive free service can seek redress before the consumer court.