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Hospital backup system failures causing deaths

In an incident reminiscent of the tragedy that occurred at Gorakhpur in August 2017, three patients have died at the Government Rajaji Medical College and Hospital (GRH) due to power failures.

Medical oxygen equipment. Copyright: sudok1 / 123RF Stock Photo
lapses in gas supply or electricity to ventilators can render them ineffective

All three patients died within an hour in the Madurai government hospital trauma care centre during a power outage. Hospital authorities have insisted that the power outage had nothing to do with the death of the patients. However, it has been alleged that, as all three patients were on ventilators, the failure of the generator due to loss of power consequently led to them switching off.

Accusations of negligence have been made due to the lack of a backup power generation system. The tragic news has forced government hospitals across the state to conduct safety audits of their generators and battery backups for their ventilators.

They have begun installing uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems provided to them by the state government. Many of the hospitals had been provided with the UPS systems two weeks prior to this incident, yet most had not yet installed them. The tragic deaths of three individuals is a severe price to pay to send the message that such backup plans and systems are essential in a hospital setting in which any stoppage of treatment can lead to deaths of patients.

Such was the case in Gorakhpur where a hospital was accused of not paying their bills for medical oxygen, leading to a shortage that resulted in the deaths of a large number of children currently receiving treatment.

Medical oxygen shortages became a focal point in the media discourse about India’s public health system at the time when it was revealed that similar incidents were taking place at many other hospitals. In one case, an official of the oxygen department was asleep during work hours due to alcohol consumption, leading to oxygen pressure falling and deaths occurring.

Doctor shortages, as well as doctors simply not showing up for work have also been implicated as reasons behind hospital deaths. It is clear that the issues causing hospital mortality rates to be far in excess of what would otherwise be expected are far more prevalent and varied than a lack of backup systems for generators.


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