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Lack of oxygen blamed as 24 patients, including 12 with Covid, die at Karnataka govt hospital

Staff at Chamarajanagar district hospital say all patients died when the facility ran out of oxygen. District authorities say too early to reach that conclusion.

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Bengaluru: Around 24 patients died at the Chamarajanagar district hospital between Sunday night and Monday morning, allegedly after the government facility ran out of oxygen. Twelve of the patients had Covid-19.

Staff at the hospital, refusing to be named, said the patients were all on oxygen support and passed away when the facility’s stock of the gas got over late Sunday night. The district authorities, however, said Monday that it was too early to confirm that all the deaths were caused by oxygen shortage.

According to a nurse, most of the patients who died were younger than 45.

The Chamarajanagar district is situated 180 km from Bengaluru, and around 60 km from Mysuru The deaths at the facility come amid what appears to be a nationwide scramble for oxygen at hospitals as the second Covid wave leaves more and more people gasping for breath. On Saturday, at least 12 Covid patients died at a Delhi hospital amid similar circumstances.

In the wake of widespread reports of oxygen shortage, the central government claims to have ramped up domestic supply, with many countries helping shore up India’s stocks as well.

After the Chamarajanagar incident, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K. Sudhakar and Mysuru district in-charge minister Suresh Kumar rushed to the district to take stock of the situation. Kumar has ordered the hospital to conduct an internal audit to determine the cause of deaths.

Also Read: How medical oxygen is supplied to hospitals, and why India is facing an acute shortage

What happened

Explaining what happened at the Chamarajanagar hospital, a senior doctor said, between midnight and 2 am, patients who were on oxygen in the ICU began gasping for breath “after the pressure in the cylinders dropped”. 

“Unfortunately, the hospital too had been facing an acute shortage of oxygen and the doctors could not provide the precious gas to the critical patients,” the doctor added. 

A growing number of Covid cases, the doctor said, had put additional pressure on the administration and they had not received their supply on time. 

The district hospital has a 6,000-litre oxygen storage plant on its premises, but it can only sustain supply for close to two days, the doctor added. 

The hospital, the doctor said, was hopeful of receiving an additional supply of 6,000 litres from Ballari last week, but it did not reach on time. 

Soon after the shortage of oxygen at the hospital came to light Sunday night, the Mysuru district hospital dispatched 40 cylinders to Chamarajanagar. Another 210 cylinders were dispatched by Mysore Southern Gas, an industrial gas facility. However, it was too late by the time they arrived.

Speaking to ThePrint, Chamarajanagar Deputy Commissioner M.R. Ravi said a total of 24 deaths took place between Sunday and Monday morning, one of which one was at a private hospital. 

“On Sunday, 14 died between 12 am and 2 am, and the remaining by morning,” Ravi said. 

“It is true that 23 have died in the district hospital and another person has died at a private hospital. It is too early to say that all patients died due to lack of oxygen,” he added. 

‘Lost my only brother’

The people who died included a 79-year-old Covid patient, whose son Ramesh R. said he had been on the road to recovery. 

“What will we do now? My father was 79 years old. The doctors kept telling us he will get better. They said my father had recovered 75 per cent,” he added. “The doctor told us his oxygen levels fell suddenly.

“When he tested positive, we brought him to the hospital. They sent us back, saying he should isolate himself at home. We came here twice, we were sent back both times. But then, on Thursday, his health deteriorated and we rushed him here and now he is no more,” he said. 

Lakshmi Nagabhushana lost her husband who was 45 years old. He was in the critical care unit and is believed to have been one of the first to have passed away.

“He has left us. We were so happy that we were supposed to come home in two days. Now I am left with just my taali (wedding chain),” she said. 

Akshata, another attendant, lost her 24-year-old brother. She said she was present at the hospital when the incident took place. 

“I had come to check on him like I do every morning around 6.30 am. I saw the doctors rushing about and nobody gave us any information,” she told ThePrint. “When I saw relatives of those who died crying and gheraoing the hospital, I realised the gravity of the situation. I lost my only brother.”

Members of the Congress, which is in opposition in the state, took to social media to condemn the incident, and demanded that the Karnataka health minister be held accountable. 

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: ‘We’re helpless,’ says Delhi’s Batra Hospital as 12 Covid patients die of oxygen shortage


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