Even as an audit report alleging that Delhi demanded four times its oxygen requirement triggered political slugfest between the BJP and the AAP, the ground realities of the second wave of the pandemic paint a different picture
Ashi Sinha was one of the tens of thousands of Covid positive people under home isolation when the second wave hit Delhi. By 20 April, according to the Delhi government health bulletin, 40,124 were in home isolation. The positivity rate was at a massive high of 32.82% with 28,395 single day positive cases pushing the total cumulative positive cases in Delhi to 9,05,541.
During this time, health care services were struggling with a lack of preparedness, with hardly any hospital beds left in the city, especially those with oxygen support. People like Sinha, whose oxygen level became drastically low were left to somehow procure an oxygen cylinder from local suppliers, or wait it out and hope for the best. In her case, the oxygen level rose to a nonlife threatening number in two days, but many were not as lucky, as visuals from outside hospitals showed – people lying outside hospitals gasping for breath waiting for beds.
Ram Sinha, Ashi’s father says they tried every phone number they were given. “There were so many numbers of oxygen suppliers being circulated. We tried each and every number but no cylinders were available. Some said it was over, others said it was the wrong number. It was a torturous time for us, but thankfully my daughter regained her health.”
But while ground reports showed a massive desperation for oxygen support, an audit report by a Supreme Court appointed committee allegedly found last week that Delhi demanded four times more oxygen than required. The Supreme Court’s oxygen audit panel led by AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria has later in an interview said that it would be incorrect to say that the Delhi government exaggerated its oxygen needs by four times, also that “the oxygen needs are dynamic and change from day to day. The matter is subjudice.”
While he has made this statement, it has opened up a political slugfest once again between BJP, which leads the Centre and AAP-led Delhi government.
Ram Sinha, says he cannot believe what the Centre is saying. “Everyone witnessed what was happening in Delhi from April second week through May. How can they now say that too much demand was being put through? There was not enough oxygen and we all could see that. We personally went through it.”
It is important to note that on April 29 the Delhi High Court bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli which was listening to multiple petitions on the lack of oxygen supply to Delhi’s hospitals had noted that by applying the formula worked out by the Central government, the requirement of oxygen for the 16,272 beds in Delhi per day is 304 MT.
It further said that in a large number of other hospitals and nursing homes with less than 100 beds, the requirement put together is estimated at 120 MT of liquid oxygen per day.
Rahul Mehra, senior counsel for the GNCTD had said that with the surge of cases and the intimation that the pandemic may peak around 15th of May, the GNCTD was making arrangements to add another 15,000 non-ICU beds, which would require 280MT of liquid oxygen per day.
“The existing requirement of liquid oxygen for the 4,866 ICU beds is 272 MT, Mr. Mehta submits on the basis of the existing hospital bed situation, the existing demand itself is 704 MT per day”, the Court said.
It also noted that there were patients being treated at home who required oxygen who were not accounted for in the calculation, “This does not take into account the oxygen requirement to treat patients at home, since there is severe scarcity of Covid beds in the hospitals. He (Mehra) points out that from the beginning, the demand raised by the GNCTD from the Central Government for liquid oxygen has been 700 MT per day, whereas allocation made was initially 480 MT, and the same was revised to 490 MT. The demand of liquid oxygen after the aforesaid augmentation of the bed capacity would be 976 MT, say 1000 MT.”
Patriot spoke with some local suppliers of gas in Delhi, which we found in the list by Delhi government under “locations for Oxygen Cylinders”. We were told by them how they ran out of oxygen during the peak in April, and calls by people in need of oxygen cylinders were never ending.
One of them is Ajay Kalra, a distributor of oxygen cylinders to nursing homes in the city. He said that while they are not authorised to sell to the general public, their number and address featuring on the website meant “We were driven mad with 2,000 calls a day for oxygen cylinders, from hospitals to the general public”.
“This was also the time that I became severely ill with Covid. You can understand the dire situation and dearth of oxygen by the fact that I, being a distributor for 30 years, could not find one tank for myself.”
An oxygen concentrator given on rental basis to a doctor had to then be requested and taken back which eventually helped him, Kalra says.
Then nurses working in government hospitals of Delhi, during the second wave told this reporter that the majority of patients admitted required oxygen supply. A nurse in AIIMS had said “many are requiring oxygen, and that too high flow oxygen which means it needs to be given through the central supply”.
A nurse in LNJP had said that all patients were requiring oxygen and that supply had been a major problem. On April 25 in fact, the hospital was left with just 2 hours supply of oxygen when it received liquid oxygen supply.
Some however, did not get the supply on time and resulted in the loss of life. On April 24, lack of oxygen at Jaipur Golden hospital in Rohini, resulted in the death of 20 patients, mostly those admitted in the critical care unit.
The medical director of the hospital Dr Deep Baluja, was quoted in reports as saying that the patients were on a high flow of oxygen. “Our liquid medical oxygen was over by about 10 pm and then we switched over to the oxygen cylinders attached to the main gas pipeline. There was a drop in pressure and the patients could not survive”, adding that the hospital was to receive its quota of oxygen at 05:30 pm but the supply did not reach until midnight. But even then, it was just 40% of its allocated quota. On May 1, a further twelve patients died in Batra hospital, as it ran out of oxygen.
The HC bench on the same day had warned the Central government of initiating contempt proceedings against its officers for their failure to fulfil the 490-metric tonne of oxygen allocated for Delhi even for a single day.
This came after taking into account a statement made by Dr. S. Bankata, Executive Director of Batra Hospital that there was a delay in supply of Oxygen due to which, Oxygen supply was interrupted for about an hour and a half, which led to the loss of 12 lives, including a doctor of the hospital.