24 die after oxygen tank leak in Nashik hospital
Twenty-two Covid-19 patients – 11 men and 11 women – died of oxygen deprivation in Nashik in north Maharashtra on Wednesday after an oxygen tank leak led to a malfunctioning of ventilators and oxygen support equipment at Dr Zakir Hussain Hospital. Two more patients died later in the evening, taking the toll in the incident to 24.
State health minister Rajesh Tope said the leak was on account of a fault in the tank’s valves that caused the prescribed oxygen pressure to reduce, leading to oxygen deprivation. The hospital, a civic-run entity, was treating 157 Covid patients, of which 131 were on oxygen support and 15 were on ventilators. Though the hospital’s capacity is 150, Nashik’s medical infrastructure has been overwhelmed by the second wave of Covid-19. On April 20 alone, the district reported nearly 4,000 Covid-19 cases and 48 deaths. Its overall caseload stood at 248,991 with 2,478 fatalities. The district’s active caseload on April 20 was 42,242.
“The coronavirus crisis has plunged the country into a vicious cycle of misfortune,” said chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. “There is a shortage of oxygen, medicine, and beds at various places, and people are dying. In all of this, the news of the accident that led to the death of 22 patients is shocking and heartbreaking. I have no words to express my grief.”
He added: “How can we comfort the relatives of the deceased? How can we wipe their tears? This may be an accident, but the grief of the relatives of the deceased is immense.”
Later in the evening, two more patients died. “The death toll in Nashik tragedy rose to 24 by evening after two more persons on ventilator succumbed. These two could not get sufficient oxygen earlier in the day as a result of which their condition deteriorated,” said Nashik district collector Suraj Mandhare.
Thackeray also announced an investigation into the incident and a ₹5 lakh ex-gratia payment to the families of each of the deceased. “This unfortunate incident must not be politicised,” he said. “This has traumatised the whole of Maharashtra. We will fix responsibility, and no one will be spared.”
Meanwhile, Tope visited Nashik in the evening and said a seven-member committee comprising experts from various fields will probe the incident.
“Nashik divisional commissioner Radhakrishna Game will chair the committee. It will also have deputy director from state health department Dr PN Gandal, Nashik-based intensivist Pramod Gunjal, principal of the Nashik Government Polytechnic Dnyandeo Nathe, Nashik Municipal Corporation additional engineer Sandeep Nalawade, Joint Director of FDA Madhuri Pawar and Harshal Patil, an expert involved in installing oxygen plants,” Tope said.
As news of the oxygen tank leak spread, angry relatives of patients and others barged into the hospital, leading to chaos, officials said. According to senior civic officials, for the first few minutes, the health care staff was trying to deal with family members as well as trying to restore the oxygen supply. “The entire hospital staff is in shock,” said Nashik divisional commissioner Radhakrishna Game.
According to Dr Vijay M Natarajan, CEO, Symbiosis University Hospital & Research Centre in Pune: “The moment oxygen pressure starts going down, an inbuilt alarm goes off in the ventilator. The alarm system is about low FiO2 (Fraction of Inspired Oxygen). In hospitals such as this, there are jumbo cylinders that supply oxygen through a channel known as central oxygen with a socket inserted at the intensive care unit level.”
H added that the oxygen pressure is “standard to all ventilators and is not patient dependent”.
Game said the incident was reported around 10am on Wednesday, when the oxygen tank’s socket malfunctioned. “Hospital authorities shifted some patients, though 22 people lost their lives as oxygen pressure was reduced. After the incident, relatives and others started entering the ward, leading to chaos. This led to a delay in restoring the situation.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his condolence message said he is anguished by the loss of lives. “The tragedy at a hospital in Nashik because of oxygen tank leakage is heart-wrenching,” he tweeted. “Anguished by the loss of lives due to it. Condolences to the bereaved families in this sad hour.”
Civic officials said the accident occurred when the hospital’s oxygen tank was being refilled by a private agency. “The private agency’s executives noticed the leakage. Technicians were immediately called and the problem was fixed,” said Game.
Angry relatives, however, alleged that the hospital did not inform them immediately about the incident. “It was only after we barged inside that I got to know my brother is no more,” a deceased patient’s relative said. The local administration beefed up security at the hospital to prevent any untoward incident as relatives of those who lost their lives in the tragedy kept demanding immediate action against those responsible.
Nashik police commissioner Deepak Pandey said, “We have increased the security as the relatives are very angry after the tragedy.”