Desperate for oxygen, Indian hospitals go to court By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receive treatment in the emergency department at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital (LNJP), amid the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India , April 15, 2021. REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui / File photo

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A court in India’s capital New Delhi has become the last hope of many hospitals struggling to get oxygen for COVID-19 patients as supplies are dangerously depleted as patients government officials bicker over who is responsible.

A bench of two Delhi High Court judges held video conferences almost daily to hear hospital petitions invoking India’s constitutional right to the protection of life. Local and federal officials are present.

The court’s intervention saved lives, lawyers say.

On Sunday, with only 30 minutes of oxygen remaining for 42 patients infected with the virus at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital and new supplies were not in sight, hospital authorities approached Delhi court as a “last resort” for help, attorney Shyel Trehan said.

The judges ordered the Delhi state government to immediately deal with the supplies.

“Oxygen cylinders arrived shortly after the hearing, and a tank arrived a few hours later,” Trehan said.

The shortage of medical oxygen has plagued the city of 20 million people for about two weeks, with unprecedented scenes of patients dying on hospital beds, in ambulances and in parking lots outside, exhausted. of breath.

Delhi registers around 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. As the healthcare system buckles, the city says it needs 976 tonnes of medical oxygen per day, but receives less than 490 tonnes, allocated by the federal government.

Government officials under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who manages supplies nationally, told the court they were doing everything possible and accused the Delhi government, led by a rival party, of politicizing the issue.

The two-judge panel, Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, heard lawyers for Modi and the local administration argue over oxygen quotas, transportation issues and the lack of tankers.

And sometimes the judges lost their temper.

Over the weekend, when Delhi state officials again raised concerns that oxygen supplies were not arriving on time, putting patients’ lives at risk, Judge Sanghi said is blamed for officials, claiming that “The water has gone overhead. Enough is enough … enough is enough. “

At the end of April, Sanghi arrested government officials, saying they should “beg, borrow, steal or import” oxygen supplies to meet the city’s needs,

He said the state “can’t say” We can only provide that much and not more, so if people die, let them die. “


The two governments, Federal and Delhi, are criticized for not being sufficiently prepared for the surge in infections. Since the end of April, some of the best hospitals in the city have sought help from the court.

“Not only is this unprecedented, but right now this (court) hearing is literally like water is for fish,” said Prabhsahay Kaur, another lawyer who approached the court for oxygen requirements. from a hospital and got help.

Yet scenes of desperation, urgency and frustration unfold every day.

In a hearing last week, a local government lawyer called an oxygen supplier by phone, putting the call on speakerphone, to ask why the cylinders had not reached a hospital, while the judges patiently listened to the answers.

On Sunday, a lawyer argued that his hospital had only an hour of oxygen reserves, while another person simultaneously pleaded that patients could “start dying” at his facility.

A few minutes later another loud voice said: “One hundred and forty patients. There is an hour left. We are in trouble … there is a crisis”, as a judge tried to calm the speaker and said urged state authorities to take immediate action.

In another exchange, an Interior Ministry official said his officers were working on a war footing and sought the court’s blessings.

India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Federal Government, said: “We are in desperate need … of God’s blessings.”

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