Months before a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, a parliamentary panel in November last year had suggested the Centre to augment hospital beds and oxygen production while flagging the “new normal" wherein patients were being turned away from hospitals due to lack of vacant beds. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, chaired by Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav and having 16 MPs from the BJP as members, advocated that the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority also takes appropriate measures for capping the price of oxygen cylinders so that their availability as well as affordability is ensured.
“The Committee also recommends the government for encouraging adequate production of oxygen for ensuring its supply as per demand in the hospitals, according to the report submitted in Parliament in November last year. It said the total number of government hospital beds in the country was “grossly inadequate" keeping in view the rising incidence of COVID-19 cases.
The panel noted that lack of hospital beds and inadequate ventilators further complicated the efficacy of the containment plan against the pandemic. “As the numbers of cases were on the rise, a frantic search for vacant hospital beds became quite harrowing. Instances of patients being turned away from overburdened hospitals due to lack of vacant beds became the new normal. The scenario of patients holding oxygen cylinder rushing from pillar to post in search of bed in AIIMS Patna is a testimony to fact that tear apart humanity," it said. Aggrieved at the poor state of healthcare system, the panel recommended the government to increase the investment in public health and take appropriate steps to decentralise healthcare services/facilities in the country.
According to the report, the Health and Family Welfare secretary had informed the committee on October 16 last year that the ministry has requested the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to fix the price of oxygen as non-invasive oxygen has been found to deliver good results. Since the hospitals are using oxygen on a large scale, its consumption is increasing. “The overall production in the country is roughly in the region of 6,900 metric ton every day. Out of 6,900 metric ton, the highest consumption of medical oxygen was reported in mid-September, in and around 24th or 25th September, when the consumption was almost 3,000 metric ton of oxygen a day," according to the report. “He (Health secretary) also submitted that during the pre-COVID days, the consumption of medical oxygen was almost 1,000 metric tons per day and the rest of the 6,000 metric tons of oxygen was being used in the industry. Therefore, there is a strong need to ensure that the oxygen inventory is in place and oxygen prices are controlled.
“The committee agrees with the department that the pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in the demand of non-invasive oxygen cylinders and instances of lack of oxygen cylinders in the hospitals had also been reported," according to the report. India is struggling with the second wave of the pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals in several states are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.