Twenty-three patients have died at a Covid-19 treatment facility in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district in a 24-hour period from Sunday morning.
While the families of the patients have alleged they died because of a shortage of medical oxygen at the facility, the state government has claimed only three of the deaths occurred due to this reason.
Chamarajanagar district deputy commissioner Dr M R Ravi confirmed 23 deaths at the district hospital, which has been designated as a Covid-19 treatment facility, between Sunday and Monday morning.
He said the district has a shortage of oxygen supplies, but claimed that not all the deaths were caused by oxygen shortage.
“A total of 23 died in the district hospital and one person died at a private facility. It cannot be said that all patients died due to lack of oxygen,” Ravi said.
Chamarajanagar district, which reported no Covid-19 cases in the first wave of infections, has seen several deaths in the last couple of days. The official state bulletin reported 15 deaths in the region on Sunday.
The newly installed 6-kilolitre liquid oxygen storage tank at the over 125-bed district hospital started to run empty around 2 pm on Sunday, local officials said.
Hospital authorities resorted to cylinders to supply nominal amounts of oxygen to patients, even as efforts were made to source cylinders from the neighboring Mysuru district, they said.
“The crisis began around 8 pm on Sunday with patients complaining of not getting enough oxygen in the ICU. The doctors were doing their best but patients were not feeling any relief. We called up district officials and they said more oxygen was being arranged. Later, there was no response,” a relative of a patient who died at the hospital, said.
The wife of a young man who died on Sunday night said: “We had been at the hospital for a week, since last Monday. My husband seemed to be recovering well but still needed oxygen. On Sunday night he complained of severe breathlessness as there was no oxygen supply, and he later died.”
Ravi said on Monday that the liquid medical oxygen facility at the hospital was working until Sunday afternoon. “Afterwards, oxygen cylinders were being used. In the night an alert was sounded of shortage of cylinders and efforts were made to arrange for the supply of more cylinders,” he said.
Officials in Mysuru district said 250 cylinders were despatched to Chamarajanagar on Sunday night after an SOS was received.
Amid calls for his resignation over the deaths, state Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar claimed that only three people at the district hospital had died due to the shortage of oxygen, and the rest had succumbed to Covid complications.
“Three of the patients died due to oxygen scarcity. The other deaths were due to other reasons. The government has ordered a probe and we will take action,” Dr Sudhakar said.
Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has ordered senior IAS officer Shivayogi Kalasad to conduct an inquiry and present a report in three days.
“The government has taken cognisance of the deaths of 23 patients…at the Chamarajanagar district hospital between 9 am on Sunday and 7 am on Monday. The government has taken a serious view of these deaths,” the order on the inquiry states.
The opposition Congress described the deaths as “murder”. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said: “The deaths could have been averted with adequate oxygen supply. Chamarajanagar needs 300 cylinders of oxygen a day and there was shortage over two to three days. District officials did not initiate measures to maintain the oxygen stock. It is the negligence of the government and irresponsibility of officials that has caused the deaths.”
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, the Centre claimed on Monday that there was no shortage of oxygen in the country, and that hospitals should use medical oxygen judiciously.
“It is very important for all the hospitals that they ensure judicious use of oxygen as per the guidelines issued…by the Union Health Ministry,” PTI quoted senior Home Ministry official Piyush Goyal as saying.
“Oxygen is available in adequate quantity in the country and efforts are being made to transport it to hospitals in the shortest possible time,” Goyal said.