New Delhi: The present oxygen crisis in Delhi hospitals has occurred despite the Delhi government purchasing 4,500 oxygen cylinders and tanks between July 2020 and April 2021, a Right to Information query filed with its Central Procurement Agency has revealed. However, the city did not install enough oxygen plants or engage adequate number of oxygen tankers on time to supply hospitals with the much-needed commodity.
The application filed by RTI activist Vivek Pandey has also revealed that in the same period, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Delhi government did not purchase any ventilators.
A resident of Madhya Pradesh, Pandey had filed the query with the CPA to see how well the Delhi government had prepared itself to deal with the pandemic. He elaborated that “the basic point behind the RTI query was to assess the preparedness of the Delhi government after the first wave of the pandemic lashed the national capital last year. But the reply suggested that the Arvind Kejriwal government had no plans in place to counter any possible second wave of COVID-19.”
Right now, Delhi is in the midst of a major COVID-19 wave – technically the city’s fourth, since it also witnessed two slight bumps in August and November last year. Over 20,000 new cases have been reported in Delhi on an average over the past week, with the daily death toll also being in the 300-400 plus range. The capital city has also enforced a lockdown which is being repeatedly extended to minimise the impact of the COVID-19 surge, which has found the health infrastructure incapable of handling the load.
There have been numerous reported incidents of people with COVID-19 not being able to get tested, Having trouble finding essential medicines and injections, unable to find hospital beds or oxygen cylinders and also dying due to shortage of oxygen supply in the hospitals.
High court pulls up Delhi government for poor medical infrastructure
On Thursday, the Delhi high court also pulled up the Delhi Government for its handling of the crisis and accused it of “behaving like the ostrich with its head in the sand”.
A Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli accused the government of behaving like an ostrich by disputing that the medical infrastructure was not in shambles.
During a hearing, when Delhi government counsel Rahul Mehra said the court should not say that the medical infrastructure was in shambles and that “the government has several initiatives, like augmenting beds by 15,000 and ICU beds by 1,200, which are in the pipeline and the oxygen is also coming in,” the bench remarked, “it is not just oxygen. Is oxygen enough? If you have oxygen, do you have everything?”
Delhi delayed decision on placing orders for tankers to transport oxygen
It has been pointed out that apart from the issue of supply of oxygen by the Central government, for which too was pulled up by the Delhi high court recently for not providing ample and promised amounts to Delhi – in view of its demand of 700 MT per day till April 28 and of 976 MT thereafter – the Delhi government also failed to manage the logistics and allocation of oxygen to the hospitals.
While Delhi’s supply increased gradually, the city did not possess enough tankers to supply it to the hospitals. In fact, while states like Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana were quick to book oxygen tankers as their COVID-19 cases increased, by the time Delhi government did so from April 17 to 19, most the tankers were already taken.
Subsequent announcements by the government to procure 18 cryogenic tankers from Bangkok did not help as they got stalled due to “technical and administrative issues”. The Delhi government has five tankers of its own, while the Centre has provided it seven more. But these are clearly not enough to meet the growing demand from the hospitals, which say their oxygen requirement has gone up nearly 10 times since the pre-second-wave period.
Hospitals surviving on special supplies
While Delhi has receives some tankers from eastern parts of India by road as also through the `Oxygen express’ trains being run by Indian Railways, the issue of having road tankers to transport this oxygen from the rail head to hospitals persists.
The Delhi government has begun giving a daily schedule of oxygen allocation to hospitals from April 22 and began allocating oxygen to each hospital from April 29. It has also started controlling the release of oxygen cylinders to the hospitals from refilling plants.
From April 28, it has also imposed restrictions on releasing cylinders to or refilling cylinders of only those people who possess a doctor’s valid prescription for medical oxygen.
Delhi delayed installing PSA oxygen plants
For the use of liquid oxygen, the Delhi government has now also woken up to the need for installing more medical oxygen plants or PSAs in the hospital premises.
These oxygen plants provide a high flow rate of oxygen that is measured in litres per minute (LPM) and help hospitals issues of logistics related with transportation of medical oxygen.
The Delhi government has 11 hospitals under it, and the Centre is installing PSA oxygen plants in seven of them. While the installation got delayed last year for various reasons, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had last month assured that they would be operationalised soon. Also, the Delhi government had approved the import of 21 PSA plants from France. Meanwhile, some oxygen generators have already reached Delhi from France. One of these has been installed in the Narayana Super Speciality Hospital in East Delhi.
Meanwhile, as the Defence Research and Development Organisation has been tasked with setting up five oxygen generators in Delhi, the Delhi government has urged the health ministry to increase the number of such generators for Delhi to 50.