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Scramble across states: SOS for oxygen rings out

New Delhi: Several state governments continued to send emergency messages to the Union government for medical oxygen as hospitals across states -- from Ranchi in Jharkhand to Alwar in Rajasthan to Rohtak in Haryana to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh -- reported shortages that were putting critical Covid-19 patients at risk, state and district officials said
PUBLISHED ON MAY 04, 2021 12:41 AM IST

New Delhi: Several state governments continued to send emergency messages to the Union government for medical oxygen as hospitals across states -- from Ranchi in Jharkhand to Alwar in Rajasthan to Rohtak in Haryana to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh -- reported shortages that were putting critical Covid-19 patients at risk, state and district officials said.

The Union health ministry has increased allocation of several states in the past one week since the oxygen demand has spiked due to a rise in infections and hospitalisations, but some states said the enhanced supply was also not enough. They also reported the shortage of tankers and cylinders to store and transport the medical essential.

In Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, angry family members of some patients went on rampage, damaging furniture and health monitors in Nutema hospital on Sunday after five Covid-infected patients died allegedly due to low oxygen pressure. “We have formed a committee to investigate the matter and action would be initiated on the findings of the committee,” said district magistrate K Balaji, adding that the administration was providing oxygen cylinders to hospitals.

Dr Manisha Tyagi, secretary of the Meerut unit of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said this was the third hospital in the past one week where family members got agitated after patients were denied admission due to heavy load in hospital, or death of patients due to alleged lack of oxygen. Last Friday, in Agra, family member of patients beat up hospital staff after oxygen supply got disrupted. Oxygen supply shortages were also reported from several other UP districts, such as Noida, Lucknow, Bareilly, Agra and Varanasi, officials said.

In Haryana, there were reports of oxygen shortage from some hospitals in Gurugram, Rohtak, and Karna, but the districts did not officially report any shortage. The state quota for Haryana has been increased from 162 million tonnes (MT) per day to 257 MT, but the state government is demanding 300 MT every day. Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, however, said all districts were being provided oxygen as per their requirement.

According to locals, patients in Rohtak were struggling to find oxygen and ICU beds at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS), and in private hospitals in Jhajjar, Sonepat, Hisar , Rewari, and other parts of the state. Neeraj Kumar, a resident of Kathura village in Sonepat, said he tried for three days to get an oxygen-supported bed for his father, a retired army personnel. “Despite all efforts, we did not get a bed in Rohtak, Jhajjar, and Sonepat. Finally, my father’s friends helped in getting a bed at army hospital, Ambala, where he is undergoing treatment,” he said. A functionary at PGIMS, who asked not to be named, said all the oxygen and ICU beds were occupied and were unable to admit new patients.

In Bihar, the state government on Monday approved the Oxygen Production Policy 2021, which provides for financial assistance to establish oxygen manufacturing units as several hospitals reported shortage of the crucial gas. Bihar has been allotted 194 MT of medical oxygen every day, which was increased to 214 MT on May 2. Out of this, 34 MT is to be created from the Air Separation Units (ASU) in the state, and the rest from industrial units in neighbouring Jharkhand and West Bengal.

At least seven district in Jharkhand informed the state government about an oxygen shortage. In Ranchi, some private hospitals stopped taking patients, according to district officials, and oxygen was also in short supply in Jamshedpur, where several hospitals stopped taking in new patients despite having vacant Covid beds.

In Rajasthan, among the hospitals that reported shortage of oxygen were Sania hospital, the biggest private medical facility in Alwar. On Monday, the hospital put up a notice asking patients or their families to arrange for oxygen on their own since they did not receive their allocated supply. Behror resident Ved Prakash Gupta, whose brother Hitesh Gupta is admitted to the hospital, said the administration told them that there was no medical oxygen left, and they should take patients to other hospitals.

Sania Hospital’s CEO, Dr. Tayyab Khan, said the hospital received 10 oxygen cylinders from the district administration on Monday, as against requirement of 150 every day. Behror MLA, Sanjay Sharma of the BJP, said they were trying to get oxygen for the hospital.

Officials in Madhya Pradesh said the state requires about 700 MT oxygen but was getting about 564 MT. As a result, they added, they were unable to increase the number of oxygen beds in high Covid-influx cities such as Bhopal, Gwalior, Indore, Ujjain and Jabalpur. State health commissioner Akash Tripathi asked private hospitals to do a daily audit of oxygen consumption and inform the district administration about the shortage of oxygen at least six hours in advance so that necessary arrangements could be made.

There were also reports of no or low oxygen from hospitals in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday said more oxygen tankers would be available to the state by Tuesday to handle transporting of oxygen supplies from other states. Punjab has a 195 MT allocation from various plants in other states, but actual supply over the past seven days has been around 110-120 MT, which has also been erratic, the CM said during Covid review meeting.

J&K LG Manoj Sinha on Sunday directed officials to do an oxygen audit in every hospital of the UT. The Himachal Pradesh government, meanwhile, has ordered installation plants in main hospitals of the state even though the state has been getting 62 MT of oxygen as against the demand of 22 MT, said HP health secretary Amitabh Awasthi, adding state was facing shortage of cylinders.

Uttarakhand health secretary Amit Negi said six oxygen plants were operating in the state, and nine more will be set up soon.

“7,200 mt was our last month production. We ramped up 25%_ upti 9,000MT. But demand is more, allocationis more than that. Demand is more than capacity. We meet it by dipping into our stocks. Cant ramp up too much more than that. Small plants in hospitals dont really help that much. A third option was to rationalise use of oxygen. We are having non stop meetings on allocation and will probably manage to take from stocks in our plants in eastern India. Earlier, Air liquide was giving 315 mt from its stocks. But with depleting stocks, can give 280mt tonnes only now. So 35 MT of supply has got depleted again and will impact some allocation’’ said a member of the empowered group.

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