Nashik: Twenty-two critically-ill Covid-19 patients, including ten women, died on Wednesday afternoon after their oxygen supply was disrupted for over an hour due to a leak in the tank providing the vital gas at the Zakir Hussain Hospital managed by the Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC).
Eleven of the deceased were on ventilator support and the remaining 11 on oxygen support. All 22 were aged between 33 and 75.
The hospital is a dedicated Covid treatment facility and had 157 patients admitted, 131 of them on oxygen support. The condition of 63 patients was critical when the leak occurred. Fifteen of these patients were on ventilator support.
As white fumes engulfed the area, the hospital staff and relatives rushed in oxygen cylinders to save a majority of the other patients. The hospital’s medical officer, Manoj Kankariya, said five patients were shifted to other city hospitals after the supply was disrupted. “We did our best to save the lives of as many patients as possible,” he added.
Till late on Wednesday night, no FIR had been registered in connection with the incident. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a high-level probe and said anyone found responsible for negligence would not be spared. The government announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each deceased.
NMC fire brigade chief Sanjay Bairagi said four tenders were rushed to the hospital within five minutes of receiving a call from the hospital. “There were white thick fumes in the area where the oxygen tank is located. Our firemen faced problems venturing to the tank since visibility was virtually zero. They managed to plug the leak within 15-20 minutes,” he said.
Bairagi said a liquid oxygen tanker was stationed near the oxygen tank to refill it. “The leak was at the outlet of the tank which is connected to the hospital oxygen pipe,” he added.
The hospital is among the two big civic-run hospitals in Nashik city and has been treating severe and critical patients due to its steady supply of oxygen. The hospital operationalised the oxygen tank with a capacity of 13,000 litres of liquid oxygen on March 31 this year.
The NMC finalized a Pune-based private company, an Indian subsidiary of a Japanese firm, through a tender process for providing large tanks on rental basis along with assured supply of oxygen for a period of 10 years. Despite repeated efforts, the private company could not be reached for its comment till the time of going to print.According to the civic authorities, the leak was noticed around 12.30pm. “The fire brigade was called and repairs to the tank were immediately undertaken. Oxygen supply from the tank resumed sometime around 1.30pm to 1.40pm. The civic body arranged oxygen cylinders for patients in the meantime,” a civic official said.
State health minister Rajesh Tope, who visited the hospital in the evening, said Nashik divisional commissioner Radhakrishna Game will head a team to probe the incident. “The team will ascertain whether it was a human or technical fault. The team, which will submit a report within a week, will also come out with standard operating procedure to prevent such incidents in future. There has to be some mechanism which can remotely monitor the pressure gauges of the tank,” he said.
Nashik district guardian minister Chhagan Bhujbal said, “It seems that the death of these patients was due to the disruption in oxygen supply following the leak in the oxygen tank. A three-member team will investigate the incident.”