Few technicians and no diesel for oxygen plants in Uttar Pradesh

As with ventilators installed hurriedly last year following the second wave of Covid, oxygen plants too in the state are languishing without technicians and diesel

Few technicians and no diesel for oxygen plants in Uttar Pradesh

K Santosh

After taking over as health minister of Uttar Pradesh Brijesh Pathak has been in the news. His own or department’s PR handlers ensured that photographs of the minister standing in queues at the registration counter in hospitals are published and shared widely. The minister has been photographed talking to patients, attendants, buying medicine and collecting feedback.

Impressed by the health minister’s photographs in the media, an MLA from Hasanganj Mahendra Singh Khadagwanshi decided to inspect the community health centre at Dhabarsi. He found the oxygen plant lying idle. With great flourish he pressed the switch to turn it on but nothing happened. The centre’s Superintendent informed the MLA that the centre had no budget for diesel and hence the plant was lying idle.

The health minister is clearly abreast of the situation because he is not known to have inspected a single oxygen plant so far. The health minister, sources claimed, does his homework and inspects only those facilities which are functional. It is also possible that the hospitals are alerted beforehand to spruce up the facilities, a trick that the poor MLA wasn’t obviously aware of.

As many as 300 oxygen plants are said to have been installed at costs ranging from Rs 40 lakhs to Rs 1.5 Crore in the state during the last one year or so. Following the deadly second wave of Covid, which took thousands, if not millions, of lives for lack of beds, treatment and medical oxygen, the plants were hurriedly set up with funds made available by the Union Government and from the state’s own resources besides the PMCARES fund. But most of the plants are said to be lying idle in the absence of technicians to operate them or because there is no sanction for diesel.

There are as many as 13 oxygen plants in Hardoi district, confirm health officials. But although the district hospital (Zila Hospital) has been upgraded to a medical college, in emergencies portable oxygen concentrators are used. The hospital itself has four oxygen plants, each of which requires two technicians. But there is no sanction for even a single technician.

During a mock drill carried out recently in Moradabad’s Sharifnagar community health centre, the team of doctors found pipes at beds but there was insufficient pressure due to which the oxygen was not reaching the beds.

The situation is equally bad in PM Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s home turf Gorakhpur. There are just three technicians for 29 oxygen plants in Varanasi against the requirement of 58 technicians. When emergency patients land at hospitals, technicians are summoned from wherever they are, explained officials. CMO Dr Sandeep Chaudhary shrugs before saying that there is an acute shortage of technicians in the entire state and little can be done. Local journalist Ashutosh Singh recalls the Prime Minister himself dedicating 14 of the plants to the people. It now seems farcical, he admits.

While Varanasi has three technicians, Gorakhpur doesn’t have even one for its 17 oxygen plants. Additional CMO Dr A.K. Prasad informs that an employee has been given training to operate the plants, which are switched on as and when required. Similarly, there are two oxygen plants in the adjacent Sant Kabir Nagar district’s government hospital but they are yet to be connected to the ICCU and PICU wards. The CMO Dr Indravijay Vishwakarma informs that the hospital buys oxygen worth Rs 50 thousand every month. Operational difficulties have been communicated to the officials of the department, he added.

All five plants in Rae Bareli have been shut down because routine servicing could not be carried out. The company which installed the plants, informs CMO Dr Virendra Singh, has refused to maintain the plants without a service contract.

After inspecting the plants at the medical college and district hospital at Eta, Tata Advanced Systems engineers wrote to the DM that in the absence of maintenance, the plants would become junk in a few years.

There are complaints from some districts that instead of copper pipes, PVC pipes were used to connect the plants to the wards. An inquiry was ordered but findings remain unknown.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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