War of words erupted after four COVID-19 patients died in ASCOMS (Batra) hospital on the outskirts of Jammu city on Saturday allegedly due to lack of oxygen, a charge the J&K administration denied vehemently.
Conflicting statements emerged throughout the day as the relatives of one of the deceased patients alleged that she died as her medical oxygen supply was cut by the hospital administration due to its non-availability. The family lost two members of the family on the same day in the same hospital.
However the J&K administration said that the "four deaths reported in Batra Hospital, Jammu today occurred because of routine medical reasons, not because of shortage of oxygen."
Initial reports also referred to a technical snag in the central oxygen system of the hospital followed by exhaustion of oxygen cylinders. Yet this did not form part of the official response on this account.
However the death note of the patient (issued by the hospital), which was shared by the relatives with media persons, mentions, "Patient developed sudden cardiopulmonary arrest. Patient not responding due to sudden fall in …Oxygen probably because of technical fault in Oxygen supply."
Meanwhile the Principal ASCOMS Hospital Dr Pawan Malhotra, who was initially quoted by few web reporters as well as a local news channel admitting the shortage of oxygen supply in the institution, in his official response to the 'Greater Kashmir' denied it.
He said the patient died of cardio-pulmonary arrest and not because of shortage of oxygen supply or any technical snag in the central oxygen system.
Earlier, the relatives of patients, including the family which lost its two members today only in the same hospital, while talking to media persons, squarely blamed the hospital administration for the death of their patients.
"Our patient died because her oxygen supply was cut. This happened on earlier 3-4 occasions also. Initially in the morning she was deprived of oxygen due to exhaustion of oxygen cylinder. When it was replenished and supply resumed, after some time, they cut the central oxygen system supply. We want to know why it happened. If they did not have oxygen, they could have given us prior information. We could have arranged it on our own. There are no facilities in the hospital, no accountability. None is answering our queries. They are after money only. There is no coordination. Seemingly they are saving oxygen for new admissions because they have already pocketed our money. This is a murder. When we had approached the CMO, five days ago, he asked us to approach the higher-ups," the members of the family alleged in the viral videos doing rounds on social media.
"Legal action should be taken against them. They are not mentioning lack of oxygen as the reason but saying she died of cardiopulmonary arrest to save their skin. Day before yesterday my sister-in-law had turned negative. Today she died because of their negligence. Our patient was undergoing treatment at the hospital for the past 17 days and died painfully of suffocation due to non-availability of oxygen," they further alleged.
After the videos of noisy scenes in the hospital, wailing relatives making allegations went viral on various social platforms, triggering a strong response from the netizens the J&K administration promptly used its different Twitter handles to refute, what it described as, "allegations and rumours."
In a series of tweets, the Department of Information and Public Relations said, "As far as oxygen supply to Batra hospital is concerned, 253 oxygen cylinders were supplied to it in the last 24 hours and regular replenishment is being undertaken as per requirement raised. The supply of oxygen is being closely monitored."
DIPR-J&K (@diprjk) further tweeted, "While there is increasing demand due to an increase in the number of Covid patients, no patient has died due to shortage of supply of oxygen. Please don't pay heed to rumours. #WeShallOvercome."
District Magistrate Jammu Anshul Garg (@hello_anshul) tweeted, "Please don't pay heed to rumours regarding Oxygen management in #Jammu, as it is being done on a rational basis."
Many netizens, while reacting to the developments, even questioned the promptness of the J&K administration to deny the charges of family without any enquiry. "Is Batra a private hospital or government hospital? How is DIPR giving them a clean chit without an enquiry?"
Later Principal Dr Malhotra, talking to 'Greater Kashmir' said, "The patient was admitted to us in the hospital on April 14 as a Covid positive patient. After 14 days, her test turned out to be negative. After she tested negative, for the past 3-4 days, her lungs were not supporting her without hydro-oxygen. Issue with hydro-oxygen is that it requires a particular amount of pressure. It increases the pressure by 6-7 times. This morning pressure was running low. That's actually a medical procedure wherein we try to wean it off, just to see how the patient reacts if she is brought to the level 40 from 60. Weaning off can be done that way only. If we continue to remain the patient on the same level (60 in her case) then the latter (patient) would become dependent on that forever."
"However, when the pressure became low (in the machine) due to weaning off, she developed some problems and she suffered cardio-pulmonary arrest. There is no issue like shortage of oxygen. Our supply was functional and within no time, a vehicle carrying oxygen supply had arrived in the hospital and supply was normal," he said.
With regard to present availability of oxygen supply with the hospital, Dr Malhotra claimed, "Right now I've 149 cylinders available with the hospital and probably we'll get 150 more cylinders by evening against our daily consumption of 300. We've never faced any such problem on account of oxygen supply. As and when, we encountered any such crunch, we would tell the Div Com and supply would be replenished. We've never made our patients suffer on account of oxygen shortage. "
"This was an unfortunate incident which occurred today. But this was not the only death, which took place within 24 hours in the hospital. Four Covid patients (including this woman) died today. All were severe Covid positive. Professor Sahib (ex-Vice-Chancellor) was 68 years old, the woman (subject of discussion) was 59-year old, yet another patient was 62-year old and the fourth one was just 48-year old yet he had a lot of co-morbidities. In fact all four deceased had co-morbidity issues. We have 32 more patients on oxygen support. So there was no technical issue or shortage of oxygen behind her death, she suffered cardiac arrest because of low pressure in the machine during the weaning off process," Dr Malhotra said.
Later in social media debates, BJP spokesperson Brigadier Anil Gupta shared a forwarded message mentioning, "Just heard from well-placed sources that a case of culpable homicide is being registered against Batra Hospital Principal/Director Pawan Malhotra for 4 deaths which, according to government, are due to "technical faults in hospital's supply system. We called him over media reports."
Former Director Information K B Jandial responded, "Yes, the initial deaths occurred due to technical snag in the central oxygen system and then exhaustion of O2 cylinders. Sad."