An unspecified number of COVID-19 patients died due to “insufficient oxygen available” at a hospital in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh during the second wave, the center told Parliament on Tuesday.
In response to a question from Telugu Desam Party MP K Ravindra Kumar, the junior health minister Dr. Bharati Pravin Pawar de Rajya Sabha that state government records showed that “some patients” died in the interval between refilling the main tank and switching the hospital to supply its backup.
“According to the preliminary report, it appears that the interval between leveling the 10KL oxygen tank and turning on this hospital’s backup manifold system has resulted in a drop in pressure in the oxygen lines,” said Dr. pawar.
“The drop in pressure in the oxygen lines led to insufficient oxygen being available to the patients, mainly on ventilator support,” she said in her response.
The deaths took place at Sri Venkateswara Ramnarayan Ruia Hospital in Tirupati, the junior health minister also said, though she did not specify when they occurred.
In May – when the second wave of Covid was at its peak and hospitals scrambled to find beds and medicines – 11 people died at the SVRR hospital after the oxygen supply was disrupted.
Disturbing images captured the chaos in hospital wards as medical staff tried to save lives.
At the time, the patients’ families had claimed that the oxygen supply had been interrupted for about 45 minutes. But Chittoor District Collector M Hari Narayanan said “there was a five-minute delay in reloading the oxygen cylinder causing the pressure to drop,” leading to the deaths.
Last month, a huge row broke out after Dr. Pawar told the Rajya Sabha that “no deaths from oxygen deprivation were reported” during the second wave of COVID-19.
The statement sparked widespread outcry, with the opposition pointing to social media calls and cases filed by hospitals frantically seeking help for oxygen-supported patients.
“It is completely incorrect to say that no one has died as a result of the oxygen crisis. Why did hospitals desperately appeal to the Supreme Court every day?” Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain lashed out.
The center responded by directing states and UTs to submit data on deaths from oxygen deprivation; the information, the center said, would be collected and presented to Parliament.
Andhra Pradesh is one of only two states to report deaths from oxygen supply so far; the other is Punjab, who said four deaths were “presumably” due to lack of oxygen.
The shortage of medical oxygen was one of the more heartbreaking headlines of the second wave, with individuals and hospitals clamoring for help on social media and in the courts.
In Delhi, a doctor was one of 12 who died in a private hospital after oxygen supplies ran out. At another hospital, 25 deaths were reported. More than 80 people died in a state-run medical facility in Goa.
The center has maintained that the ‘lack of supply’ was the result of a transportation problem – moving the gas from where it was produced to where it was needed – and not a manufacturing problem.
However, the shortage was severe enough to force the center to import oxygen, rush to set up new production facilities, and turn to other countries for help setting up emergency facilities.