Published on April 17, 2021

AHMEDABAD: Dr Rohit Joshi, a director of Aarna Hospital, was recently in a race against time to save patients on oxygen. “I got a call from my Paldi hospital that the oxygen would last just for five minutes – the alarm had already got buzzed.

I had no other option. I took my car, a staffer and got two cylinders of oxygen in the car to cover the distance of 9km in five minutes. I broke almost all the rules of traffic that day. We only heaved a sigh of relief when we reached the spot in five minutes and 30 seconds,” recounts Dr Joshi.

He confesses that any small accident could have killed him, as oxygen is highly inflammable.“But if I could not reach in time, four patients would be gasping for breath like fish out of water,” says Dr Joshi, a urologist.

“The oxygen shortage is acute, and like me many other hospitals have completely stopped planned surgeries that requires oxygen. I have hired two mini trucks and four persons whose only work is to ferry oxygen from the production units to hospitals day-in, day out.”

Dr Joshi is not alone in the quest for a few more breaths – several city-based hospitals are grappling with the issue of uninterrupted oxygen supply. Sources close to the development said that production is ramped up to meet the ever-rising demand, but the issue is of ensuring supply. Director of a city-based hospital said on condition of anonymity that the agencies are tired of the drudgery.

“A delay of 15 minutes could be pardonable in general sense, but not when you are waiting for oxygen to arrive. Now the hospitals are asking for precise time, as they often have only that much gas left to offer the patients. Recently, news of a truck carrying the cylinder developing a flat tyre sent four hospitals in frenzy that sent cars and technicians to resolve the issue,” said the doctor.

Dr Ishan Shah, director of Sushrusha Hospital, said that they cannot trust the suppliers, and thus have their own delivery system that can work in sync with the stock available. “Many hospitals have devised such system of hiring the vehicles and personnel that continuously replenish the stock,” he said.

To put the issue in perspective, out of 5,212 Covid-19 patients admitted in city hospitals, 63% or 3,298 required oxygen. The ever-rising number of patients has made it difficult for the hospitals to sustain the stock.

High viral load has resulted in patients requiring more oxygen’

“During the current surge, patients are reporting higher viral load, affecting lungs of both young and old. Thus, the majority of the patients require oxygen as a treatment protocol. On an average, a patient on oxygen requires 1 to 4 litres per minute, which goes as high as 10 litres per minute for the patients in ICU,” said Dr Manoj Singh, a city-based pulmonologist.

Dr J P Modi, medical superintendent of Civil Hospital, said that the patients in want of oxygen have increased manifold in the past fortnight. “We have 55 tonnes of liquid oxygen tanks that need refills once every 2-3 days. But now it’s getting refilled 2-3 times a day,” he said.

Several city-based hospitals were forced to deny patients as they did not have adequate oxygen supply.

EMRI 108 sources said that several such patients ended up at Civil Hospital in the city due to want of a bed with oxygen. The state government had recently told the Gujarat high court that from 50 tonnes a day, the requirement has shot up to 710 tonnes, forcing the manufacturers on a 24-hour production cycle to meet demand.

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