Three newborns died in the neonatal intensive care unit of a government hospital in Raipur with their relatives blaming it on disruption in oxygen supply, a charge denied by Chhattisgarh health officials.
On the directions of Chief Minister Raman Singh, the government has constituted a team of specialist doctors to probe the deaths that occurred on Sunday at Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial Hospital.
The committee has been asked to submit its report within 24 hours, an official said.
While relatives claimed the children died due to irregular oxygen supply, health officials denied the charge, saying the deaths were due to different reasons.
However, a hospital staffer deputed at the oxygen supply plant in the premises was arrested for laxity in discharging his duties. He was allegedly found to be drunk.
“A committee, headed by Director Medical Education A K Chandrakar, has been set up to probe the reported disruption of oxygen supply at the hospital,” a senior health department official said.
Other members of the panel include Hospital Superintendent Dr Vivek Chaudhary, Assistant Medical Superintendent Dr Altaf Yusuf Meer and Head of the Paediatric Department, Dr Sharja Phooljhale, he said.
“The probe will be focused on finding shortcomings, if any, that led to the incident and how it could have been averted. The committee will also probe if any kind of negligence caused the incident and who were responsible for it,” the official said.
Earlier in the day, Principal Secretary, Health, Subrat Sahoo told reporters that three children, who were on ventilators in the special newborn care unit, died on Sunday due to different reasons.
“These deaths have no connection with the so-called disruption of oxygen supply,” he said.
“Of them, one child had died at 12.30 pm yesterday due to low birth weight and other complications, while another died at around 1.30 pm due to respiratory failure and heart-related issues. The third child died at 10 pm due to respiratory failure and other problems,” Sahoo said.
He, however, said a hospital staff member, Ravi Chandra, who was on duty at the oxygen supply unit from 2 pm to 8 pm on Sunday, has been arrested.
“At around 5 pm, a doctor in the paediatric unit observed that oxygen volume level in the reservoir (main oxygen tank) had dropped.
“Though there was no disruption in oxygen supply in the unit, the doctor immediately tried to contact on-duty staff Ravi Chandra but he could not be contacted,” he said.
Later, Chandra was found in an inebriated state. A police complaint was lodged against him and he was arrested, the officer said.
Sahoo maintained that oxygen supply was not at all disrupted and the reservoir’s volume level was restored to normal range within 15 minutes after the drop was noticed.
He said post-mortem of the children was yet to be conducted.
Meanwhile, the chief minister said that no one responsible for this tragic incident will be spared.
The main opposition Congress and relatives of the children, while talking to reporters, alleged that negligence in oxygen supply led to the deaths.
“The government is trying to cover up the death of the children due to disruption in oxygen supply,” state Congress spokesperson Gyanesh Sharma said and demanded a high-level inquiry into it.
Udaykumar Vishwakarma, a relative of one of the babies, said, “We came to know from the hospital staffers that there was some problem with the oxygen supply in the unit. We tried to ask the doctors about it but they did not respond.”
Vishwakarma had come from Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh for the treatment of his niece.
The Congress also demanded removal of state Health Minister Ajay Chandrakar over the incident.
“The death of infants due to alleged disruption in supply of the oxygen is a criminal offence and unacceptable. Strict action should be taken against those guilty for the incident,” state Congress president Bhupesh Baghel told reporters.
Baghel and other party leaders visited the hospital on Monday.
“The health minister should step down from his post and if he does not, Chief Minister Raman Singh should immediately sack him,” he said.