Gorakhpur tragedy exposes UP govt’s callous attitude towards healthcare
New Delhi: Even as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath warned of “exemplary” action against the guilty on Sunday, the tragic death of at least 33 children in just two days at Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College, Gorakhpur, has exposed the Uttar Pradesh government’s callous attitude towards patients and its incapability to utilize allocated funds wisely.
The central government also stepped in to cool frayed tempers, announcing setting up a regional medical centre at a cost of Rs85 crore in Gorakhpur for conducting research on ailments that afflict children. Over 60 children have reportedly died at BRD Medical College since 7 August.
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Though authorities are probing allegations that the deaths were caused by a private firm’s decision to stop oxygen supply to the hospital over non-payment of dues, the tragedy has put a question mark on the hospital’s contingency plans. The state government was allocated Rs4,479.5 crore in 2016–17, under the National Health Mission of which around Rs19.22 crore was for buying medical equipment. Union health minister J.P. Nadda had said at several events that India has no shortage of funds for healthcare and that states are not utilizing the funds properly.
The lack of clarity over financial transactions among state officials is apparent from their statements in the past few days. Uttar Pradesh medical education minister Ashutosh Tandon told reporters on 1 August that the oxygen supplier had written a letter to the principal of the medical college demanding the payment of dues. The letter was forwarded to the director general, medical education. On 5 August, the payment was made to the medical college and the amount was credited to its account on 7 August.
However, the supplier, Pushpa Sales had written to Tandon on 9 August complaining of lack of response from the medical college, reminding him about non-payment of dues and warning that the cut in oxygen supply can affect seriously ill patients in the hospital. A copy of the letter has been reviewed by Mint.
State health minister Siddharth Nath Singh on Saturday said that the Uttar Pradesh administration was unaware of any such issue and that chief minister Yogi Adityanath had not been informed by doctors and officials about any shortage of oxygen on 9 August when he visited the hospital. The Uttar Pradesh government insists that the deaths are not linked to any oxygen shortage, though they are unable to explain why so many children have died in two days.
“State is a health subject and proper fund management is their responsibility. We have also sought a report; strict action will be taken against the guilty. BRD Medical College is suffering from overburden of patients. They get far too many patients beyond their capacity to handle. We need to work out a plan and strengthen the periphery of more medical facilities in Uttar Pradesh,” said health secretary C.K. Mishra.
Hospitals administration experts hold the incident as one of sheer negligence—by both hospital authorities and the government administration.
“First of all, government hospitals are supposed to keep an alternative vendor for oxygen supply. Secondly, this is shameful for a government hospital that a vendor is withdrawing oxygen supply due to non-payment of dues for six months,” said Dr. Anjan Prakash, former additional medical superintendent at RML Hospital, New Delhi. Dr. Prakash has also been a consultant with the Union health ministry.
“The newborns can be easily managed by small cylinders that are easily available in the market. All government hospitals have a contingency fund for such emergencies. And when the hospital was telling the government about shortage of funds, the government should have paid heed to the problem,” she said.
Rajeev Rautela, district magistrate of Gorakhpur, submitted a report on 11 August about the shortage of oxygen and how the BRD Medical College managed to arrange cylinders. The oxygen ran out in the hospital on 10 August when the hospital saw at least 23 deaths of children. The report, of which Mint has a copy, describes two days of turmoil in BRD Medical College on 10 and 11 August.
“On 10 August at 7.30pm, liquid oxygen pressure went down and so we used 52 reserve oxygen cylinders to keep operations running. After midnight on 11 August, the hospital somehow managed to source 50 oxygen cylinders from a company called IGL in Faizabad. They came by 1:30am. Another lot of cylinders from the same company came after few hours. A batch of 22 cylinders and another batch of 36 cylinders later came from a Gorakhpur-based company—Modi Pharma. A hundred empty cylinders from the hospital were also sent to Modi Pharma,” the report said.
PTI contributed to this story.