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LUCKNOW: It was a desperate night of August 10 when the doctors at Nehru Hospital in BRD Medical College started running helter-skelter arranging for life-saving oxygen as the regular supply had dipped and the patients, mostly kids, started sinking. Khushi, 5, too devoid of oxygen, struggled for life for next 24 hours and lost it at 5 pm on Friday.
She was one among those 60 patients, including 30 kids, who died in the hospital during the last five days.
However, the real oxygen crisis started on Thusday night.
Zahid who had admitted daughter Khushi, running with high fever to Encephalitis ward on Thursday afternoon saw her sinking past midnight as the regular oxygen supply started dipping since 11.30 pm. Zahid says he was given a bag by the doctors to pump Khushi. “They also arranged some oxygen cylinders from outside,” states Zahid. At 5 pm on Friday, Khushi’s body became numb and lifeless but the hospital authorities declared her dead only at 10 pm, claims the father.
“Panic-stricken doctors kept administering the injections to the dead body of my daughter just to show the gathered media that she was alive,” said Zahid howling with the pain of his loss. He pleaded for the body but was allowed to take it only after the police officials intervened.
Zahid and many more parents at BRD Medical College had similar tale of woes to narrate. However, after the reports of disrupted oxygen supply and resultant deaths pilfered out, the state government authorities rushed for a cover-up and the first head to roll was of Principal RK Mishra who was suspended on Saturday for dereliction of duty and negligence by state minister, Medical Education. Mishra on his part claimed that he had resigned taking the moral responsibility of the incident before being suspended by the minister who had reached the medical college to take stock of the situation on Saturday.
Of 30 children who died in the Medical College during the last 48 hours, 17 were in the neo-natal ward, five in the AES (acute encephalitis syndrome) ward and eight in the general ward. The confusion over the cause of so many deaths in just five days was still a riddle to be solved. While the patients claimed it to be lack of oxygen supply, the authorities rubbished the claim and attributed the deaths to a number of reasons including neo-natal deaths, outbreak of acute encephalitis and other ailments. However, a high level probe into the reasons was on under Chief Secretary Rajeev Kumar and the report is expected shortly.
What went wrong?
TERSE LETTER: After numerous reminder about its pending dues, the firm supplying oxygen to BRD Medical College sent a legal notice & two reminders on July 30 & 31 about its inability to supply oxygen in view of C69-lakh outstanding balance. The notice said that it won’t be responsible for any eventuality
SOS: Three employees of hospital’s Central Pipeline that supplies oxygen to various wards sent an SOS to the HoD of the paediatric on Aug 10, about the low pressure of oxygen in the unit, which is unlikely to last beyond midnight
PANIC SETS IN: At 7.30 PM on August 10, there is a dip in oxygen pressure in the pipeline. Desperate search for oxygen cylinders begins across the city for alternative arrangements. Did the firm suddenly stop oxygen supply? Probe is on
DESPERATE NIGHT: With oxygen supply down, it was a desperate Thursday night for parents, whose kids were in critical condition in neonatal ICU and encephalitis wards. They were given Ambu bags for maintaining oxygen supply, but many children started sinking
CLAIM, COUNTER-CLAIM: Although hospital and the health minister, claim that only one kid died on 10th night during the period the oxygen supply was disrupted, attendants claimed that their wards died in the night itself but were declared dead the next day
WHILE the oxygen supply emerged as the main reason for the sudden spate in deaths, the authorities also set up a probe to ascertain the role of the supplier M/s Pushpa sales Company which is accused of stopping the oxygen supply on Thursday night due to non-payment of dues to the tune of `70 lakh despite several reminders to the Medical college authorities and the district administration.
According to Deepankar Sharma of Pushpa sales Company, he had written to the BRD Medical College several times to clear their dues since November, the latest being on July 31 this year, but to no avail. He had even sent a legal notice dated July 30, 2017, addressed to the Medical college authorities saying,
“You are called upon to ensure the payment of the pending bill with 15 days of the receipt of this legal notice failing which the company shall be compelled to initiate appropriate proceedings against you and you will be saddled with cost and consequences thereof.”
On August 1, the liquid oxygen supplier company gave an ultimatum to the medical college authorities of discontinuing oxygen supply as the huge amount was pending. However, minister of medical health Ashutosh Tendon claimed that money for payment was released by the authorities in Lucknow on August 5 itself and the medical college authorities did not do the due.
Another startling fact which reveals the callousness of the hospital authorities is a letter written by three operators of the hospital’s central oxygen pipeline to the Head of Department (HoD) of the paediatric department on August 10.
They mentioned in the correspondence that the leading of liquid oxygen was losing pressure in the unit which is unlikely to last beyond midnight. However, the hospital authorities did not pay heed to it.
Meanwhile, in the melee, the hospital rushed to make partial payment of Pushpa Sales on August 11 with the promise to pay the rest soon.
However, Gorakhpur district administration, the visiting ministers and the hospital remained firm on their stand that the deaths did not occur due to lack of oxygen supply and that there was no dearth of the life saving gas in the hospital.
Back in Lucknow, after an emergency meeting on the issue, chief minister Yogi Adityanath said that if the deaths occurred due to lack of oxygen it was an offence and he would ensure strictest action against those responsible for criminal negligence.
The union government has also asked the state for a detailed report on so many deaths in such a short span. The Centre has even rushed union minister Anupriya Patel along with union health secretary to Gorakhpur.
In the mean time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked to chief minister Yogi Aditaynath to take information and took to twitter to express his concern over the issue. “I am monitoring the situation in Gorakhpur and I am in constant touch with the authorities in UP,” Narendra Modi tweeted.
Meanwhile, the incident came as oxygen to the moribund and decimated opposition in the state. All, including the Congress led by Ghulam Nabi Azad and RPN Singh, the Samajwadi Party led by its chief Akhilesh Yadav and the Bahujan Samjwadi Party led by chief Mayawati politicised the issue and used it as a tool to attack the state government in anticipation of getting some political space back.