Officials at the BRD Medical College, where dozens of children died since Thursday, had been repeatedly warned of an impending disruption in oxygen supply but chose to ignore them until fatalities struck, evidence suggests.
Pushpa Sales, the sole supplier of liquid oxygen to the hospital in Gorakhpur of eastern Uttar Pradesh, had been writing letters regularly to the officials, saying the supply of oxygen could be disrupted if accumulated dues of Rs 68 lakhs were not cleared.
The firm had written letters to the BRD authorities on August 1 and August 8 (copies available with HT), cautioning them about a possible disruption. The letters, however, elicited no response.
The hospital authorities made a partial payment of Rs 21 lakhs against the accumulated dues only late on Friday, a day after 23 children had died at the nodal medical facility for the treatment of encephalitis in the region. Officials of Pushpa Sales insisted that their contract with the hospital stipulated that the dues cannot ever exceed Rs 10 lakhs.
“The fault is not ours. We also bought oxygen from another firm, which denied supply without advance payment. In such a situation, how long could we have continued supplies?” asked Deepankar Sharma, the owner of Lucknow-based Pushpa Sales.
Sources said the company cut off supplies on August 1 and the hospital’s stock of oxygen finally ran out on the night of August 10, when the children died.
Operators of the pipelines that supply oxygen to various wards of the Nehru Hospital within the BRD Medical College had also warned of depleting oxygen stock some 12 hours before the children began to die on Thursday evening. Some of them told HT they had warned the higher officials that oxygen supply could run out by night since the meter reading in the morning showed a limited stock of 900 kg.
The hospital needs a daily supply of about 250 oxygen cylinders of seven kgs capacity each. It translates to 1,750 kgs of oxygen every day.
Pushpa Sales on Saturday rushed fresh supplies of oxygen cylinders to the hospital following receipt of the partial payment. “We have called for liquid oxygen tanker from Rajasthan, the place from where we get the supply for medical college,” said Manish Bhandari, an employee of the firm.
The hospital in the interim had procured oxygen cylinders from another supplier. The Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) also provided 10 cylinders from its stock to tide over the crisis. Officials said piped supply of oxygen to the wards is continuing with the cylinders being constantly replenished from local sources.
Pushpa Sales has been the sole supplier of oxygen to BRD Medical College since July. Earlier, oxygen was procured from three local suppliers: Modi Pharma, Balaji and Mayoor.