Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath left for his constituency Gorakhpur on Sunday where 23 infants died within 24 hours last week at the city’s main government hospital after its liquid oxygen supply was cut since it failed to pay dues to the supplier.
The Uttar Pradesh government suspended the principal of a medical college on Saturday, and the state government denied the deaths at Baba Raghav Das Medical College were due to the oxygen supply shortage.
Documents seen by HT indicate that Pushpa Sales, the sole supplier of liquid oxygen to the hospital , had been writing letters regularly to the officials, saying the supply of oxygen could be disrupted if accumulated dues of Rs 68 lakhs were not cleared.
The firm had written letters to BRD authorities on August 1 and August 8 (copies available with HT), cautioning them about a possible disruption. The letters, however, elicited no response.
The hospital authorities made a partial payment of Rs 21 lakhs against the accumulated dues only late on Friday, a day after 23 children had died at the nodal medical facility for the treatment of Japanese Encephalitis in the region.
The deaths are the first big crisis for Adityanath, who took charge less than six months ago. The chief minister had visited the facility and took stock of the arrangements two days before the night the most infants died.
The CM addressed a press conference on Saturday evening and said that it will be “despicable if the deaths turned out to be caused due to oxygen shortage”.
Most deaths were reported from the neonatal and encephalitis wards.
Adityanath’s had taken stock of arrangements at the encephalitis wards days before the oxygen shortage hit the facility.
The CM blamed the medical college’s principal for not raising the supply issue when held meetings, and said the role of other officials and the oxygen supplier will be looked into.
Adityanath left for Gorakhpur on Sunday morning along with Union health minister JP Nadda .
Earlier on Friday, district magistrate Rajeev Rautela said a magisterial probe was ordered into the deaths.
“We have been told that BRD witnessed disturbance in liquid oxygen supply since last night as firm withdrew supply owing to non-payment,” he said.
“The BRD principal told us that out of an outstanding of Rs 70 lakh, Rs 35 lakh was paid to the Lucknow-based firm. But it denied receiving the money.”
The relative of a child who died at the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur. ( HT Photo )
The tragedy triggered outrage and the Opposition — the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress — sought the resignation of state health minister Siddharth Nath Singh and compensation of Rs 20 lakh to the families of each deceased kid.
“Kins of the deceased were shooed away after handing over dead bodies to them. Post mortem examinations not done on dead bodies. Admission cards were taken out of records. Extremely sad,” tweeted Akhilesh Yadav, the former chief minister and SP leader.
The Congress will send senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and state unit chief Raj Babbar on Saturday to assess the situation.
Citing a break-up of casualties since August 7, state health minister SN Singh had said on Friday that 60 children died of various diseases during the period in the hospital’s paediatric department but none because of shortage of oxygen.
More deaths were reported on Saturday.
The deaths highlight the challenges faced in India’s underfunded public health system, where successive governments have failed to address the acute shortage of staff and clinics. The problems are compounded by cases of shoddy medical treatment.
This is the second time Pushpa Sales cut oxygen supply, after April last year when it owed Rs 50 lakh.
District magistrate Rautela said alternative arrangements were made from nearby nursing homes since Thursday night and from neighbouring Sant Kabir Nagar district.
“At present, there are 50 oxygen cylinders and 100 to 150 more will be reaching soon,” he added.
The BRD medical college has been recording deaths of children from mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis and acute encephalitis syndrome for years. In the past three decades, the two diseases have claimed more than 50,000 children in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the majority in Gorakhpur district.
Chief minister Adityanath had launched a campaign to eradicate encephalitis and he is pushing to improve the state’s healthcare sector. During his visit to the medical college on Wednesday, he warned officials of strict action if any irregularity was detected in the treatment of the patients.
(with agency inputs)