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Opinion | Why scores of ventilators lie unused in hospitals?

With states like Karnataka and Delhi seeking more oxygen supply quota from the Centre, hospital beds are full with Covid-19 patients. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed on Friday that the oxygen supply position in the capital has improved. But many hospitals still face shortage of ICU beds and ventilators. 

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: May 08, 2021 11:59 IST
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Image Source : INDIA TV

Opinion | Why scores of ventilators lie unused in hospitals?

With 4.01 lakh fresh Covid-19 cases reported across India on Friday, the situation continues to be grim. It was for the third consecutive day that the number of fresh Covid-19 cases has crossed the 4 lakh mark. On Friday, India recorded its highest-ever single-day death toll of 4,187, crossing the four thousand mark for the first time. The pandemic is spreading fast in Karnataka which reported 48,781 fresh cases and 592 deaths, of the 346 fatalities in Bengaluru alone. 

Maharashtra continues to lead the states’ tally with 54,022 fresh cases and 898 deaths, Kerala 38,460 fresh cases and 54 deaths, Uttar Pradesh 28,076 new cases and 372 deaths, Tamil Nadu 26,465 new cases and 197 deaths, West Bengal 19,216 cases and 112 deaths, Rajasthan 18,231 cases and 164 deaths, Andhra Pradesh 17,188 cases and 73 deaths, Haryana 13,876 new cases and 162 deaths, Bihar 13,466 fresh cases, Madhya Pradesh 11,708 cases and 84 deaths, Uttarakhand 9,642 cases and 137 deaths, Punjab 8,367 cases and 165 deaths, and Telangana 5,559 new cases and 41 deaths. According to one estimate, the number of daily cases in the second wave is four times more compared with last year’s first wave of the pandemic. 

With states like Karnataka and Delhi seeking more oxygen supply quota from the Centre, hospital beds are full with Covid-19 patients. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal claimed on Friday that the oxygen supply position in the capital has improved. But many hospitals still face a shortage of ICU beds and ventilators. You will be astonished to know that there are hundreds of ventilators lying unpacked, unused in several district hospitals of UP and Bihar, due to lack of staff trained in anesthesia. 

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed visuals from UP’s Bijnore hospital, where patients were imploring doctors for oxygen, but none was ready to listen. Some relatives were themselves giving CPR to patients, while some others were thumping the back of patients to revive them. There were at least 3 critical patients who required immediate intervention with ventilators, but there were none available. 

When India TV reporter probed further, he found the chief medical superintendent of the hospital admitting that the CMO had purchased 24 ventilators at a cost of Rs 50 lakh last year, out of which 10 were opened and installed, but the rest were lying packed because of lack of trained staff. The 10 ventilators that were opened were in working condition but lying unused because there was no trained staff to handle them. The chief medical superintendent said there was no anesthetist in the hospital who could handle these ventilators. The CMS has now decided to shift all these unused ventilators to Moradabad district hospital. 

This is gross negligence and sheer apathy on part of the system that runs these district hospitals. The state government sent the ventilators, they remained unused in the hospital store, nobody bothered to get trained staff appointed to handle these ventilators, and Covid patients were dying painful deaths. 

Bijnore is not alone. In ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed how 67 ventilators were lying packed in the storeroom of UP’s Firozabad district hospital. Our reporter found out that 114 new ventilators were purchased last year from PM CARES Fund, but, according to hospital officials, ‘since there was no need for using these ventilators’, it was decided to send them to some other district hospital. The CMO of the hospital lied when he told our reporter that all these ventilators were in working condition. Our reporter found out that only 47 ventilators were opened and used, while the remaining still remained packed. In all, 67 ventilators were accumulating dust, lying inside the storeroom. The hospital chief wrote a letter to higher-ups requesting them to take away the unused ventilators for some other district hospitals. The letter now lies somewhere in the files of the health department.

When Covid patients die due to lack of oxygen or ventilator, their relatives blamed the government. The government, on its part, can send ventilators and oxygen tankers to hospitals, but if hospital authorities, citing lack of trained staff, fail to use the ventilators, then who should be held accountable?

The same is the situation in Bihar. There are reports that in many district hospitals, entries have been made in stock registers about the existence of ventilators, but these never saw the light of the day. They are still lying unpacked in storerooms. Even the polythene covers on these ventilator packs have not been removed. In one instance, the state health department sent four new ventilators to the Benipur subdivisional hospital of Darbhanga district, Bihar last year during the first wave of the epidemic. The hospital in charge says, since there is no ICU in this hospital, these ventilators were never installed. Moreover, there was no trained staff for operation and maintenance. 

During the past two weeks, we have seen more than 400 ventilators have come as aid from other countries, but how can a Prime Minister or a Chief Minister visit each district hospital to check whether these ventilators are being used? It is the duty of the hospital administration to ensure they remain operational for the benefit of patients. It is their responsibility to appoint trained staff to handle ventilators. India TV reporter showed visuals from Darbhanga Medical College Hospital, where 27 ventilator beds had been installed, but these were mere showpieces. The ventilators were purchased last year during the pandemic. Not a single ventilator bed was used because of one single reason: lack of trained staff to handle such equipment.

At the Gopalganj Sadar hospital in Bihar, there are six ICU ventilator beds, but all of them are covered with red cloth. The ventilators are in working condition, but cannot be used because there is no trained staff to operate them. The civil surgeon of the hospital said that he had sent a request for the appointment of technicians to the Health Minister several times, but there has been no response. The same is the situation in the Sheohar, Khagaria and Sasaram district hospitals of Bihar. Six ventilators were dumped like a scrap in the storeroom of Sheohar district hospital. In almost all the cases, the hospital authorities said they had sent requests for appointing technicians to the district authorities, who, in turn, forwarded them to the state health department, where the files have got stuck. 

India TV reporters visited district hospitals of Rajasthan, where they noticed a similar scene. More than 20 ventilators are lying unused in Churu district hospital. Some of these ventilators worth crores of rupees had been dumped near a hospital washroom. The hospital chief said the ventilators had been kept near the washroom because of lack of space. Dr. Sajid Khan, the Covid nodal officer of state-run Bhartia Hospital claimed Covid patients were being given ventilators and BiPap whenever required, 15 ventilators are ‘uninstalled’, one ventilator was defective, and the remaining 51 ventilators are being used in ICU.

In Kotputli near Jaipur, several ventilators bought last year remain unused. The district collector said these were not being used because of a lack of oxygen supply. He promised to send the unused ventilators to Jaipur’s SMS Medical College hospital. 

On one hand, Covid-19 patients are dying for want of oxygen, and on the other hand, scores of ventilators are lying unopened, unused in district hospitals of UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. Profiteers and black marketers are making a killing by selling oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators to the needy at exorbitant prices. Delhi Police seized 419 oxygen concentrators from the outlets and godown of a businessman, Navneet Kalra, who is now absconding. 96 oxygen concentrators were seized from the famous Khan Chacha restaurant in south Delhi’s post Khan Market, while nine others were seized from another sister outlet. In all, 524 oxygen concentrators were seized from three outlets by police. The businessman along with his partner had imported 650 oxygen concentrators, out of which he had sold 125 concentrators at exorbitant prices. 

Profiteers and hoarders in this age of pandemic must be given stringent punishment by law. The pandemic is spreading fast and the daily statistics of fresh cases that I give at the beginning of my blog daily is to underscore the enormity of the crisis. Please stay away from crowds, wear double masks if at all you need to go outside, and maintain hand hygiene.  During the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, I had warned that this could act as a super spreader and it did. Eid-ul-Fitr is coming, and I request all our Muslim friends to maintain social distance while celebrating the festival. Celebrate this year’s Eid in your homes, avoid coming out in the open and hugging others. By hugging a Covid positive person, you could be inviting the virus to your body. Stay safe and alert.

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