The Uttar Pradesh government has ordered an investigation after the owner of a hospital in Agra was purportedly caught on video saying that the facility cut off oxygen supply for patients for five minutes in April in a “mock drill”, NDTV reported. Agra, and the rest of India, was in the middle of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in April-May and there was an acute shortage of the life-saving gas.
Arinjay Jain, the owner of Paras Hospital, is heard saying in the video that the mock drill was done to check who would survive if the hospital’s oxygen supply ran out. Scroll.in has not independently verified the authenticity of the video.
Jain said that his hospital had tried to persuade families to take patients home as there was an acute shortage of oxygen at that time. Some families agreed but others refused to do so, Jain claimed.
“We decided to do a mock drill of sorts to see who will survive and who won’t. We wanted to identify those whose oxygen supply could be cut,” Jain said. “At 7 am on April 26, we shut off oxygen supply for five minutes and 22 patients started turning blue. We realised that they will not survive if there is no oxygen.”
The families of the 74 other patients who were admitted to the intensive care unit wards were asked to get their own oxygen cylinders, he added.
The 22 patients that Jain spoke about were admitted to both Covid-19 and non-Covid wards, The Times of India reported.
Agra District Magistrate Prabhu N Singh dismissed reports that 22 patients had died, claiming that there were only seven deaths at the hospital on April 26 and 27, the Hindustan Times reported. “There was an oxygen shortage on these days, but it was augmented by diverting supply from Mathura refinery,” the official added.
Agra’s Chief Medical Officer RC Pandey told The Times of India that a committee had been formed to investigate the matter. Superintendent of Police Botre Rohan Pramod said the police will intervene in the matter only after health authorities approach them. “Let them first do the initial investigation,” he said. “It will not be appropriate to further comment on the subject.”
Meanwhile, the hospital owner claimed that his comments were misconstrued. “We had conducted a mock drill to identify critical patients and better serve them,” Jain said, according to The Times of India. He also claimed to not have information about the exact number of deaths at the hospital.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra criticised the government for the incident. Gandhi described it as a “dangerous crime” and demanded immediate action against those responsible for it. “There is a severe shortage of both oxygen and humanity under the BJP rule,” he tweeted. “My condolences to the families of the deceased in this hour of grief.”
Vadra tweeted the video of the hospital owner talking about the drill, and mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s claims that there was there was enough oxygen available.
“PM: I didn’t let the shortage arise,” Vadra said in her tweet. “CM: There is no shortage of oxygen. The properties of those spreading rumors about it will be seized. Minister: Give the patients the oxygen they need. Don’t give too much. Who is responsible [for the incident]?”
India’s oxygen crisis
India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic. The acute shortages of oxygen as well as medicines and hospital beds forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. The Opposition has heavily criticised the Centre for the crippling shortages of medical supplies, and courts had also pulled up the Centre.
The country’s oxygen crisis could have been partly diffused had India utilised the past year to create localised solutions in the form of small-scale oxygen generation plants within hospitals on a war footing.
It takes just four to six weeks to install a Pressure Swing Adsorption oxygen generator at a hospital, said industry players and government officials. The average cost comes to just Rs 1.25 crore, based on the Centre’s outlay of Rs 201 crore for 162 oxygen plants.
But an investigation by Scroll.in showed that the central government took eight months to float a tender, and six months later, PSA oxygen plants were operational in only five of the 60 hospitals we called. Hours after the report was published, the health ministry admitted that only 33 of the 162 PSA oxygen plants it had commissioned had been installed.