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Unpaid oxygen bills leave St George Hospital gasping for air

After the company that provides liquid oxygen to the hospital discontinued supply, staff have to lug unwieldy, expensive and unsafe oxygen cylinders to OTs and wards
 
Imagine having to purchase the air that you breathe. What would happen if you failed to pay the bills?
For many patients undergoing treatment in the state-run St George Hospital, this possibility has become a living reality. Due to non-payment of its oxygen bills running into lakhs, the hospital's central oxygen supply has been discontinued by the service provider. This means that the scores of patients undergoing surgical procedures or recuperating with ventilator support in the hospital's ICU are at the mercy of portable oxygen cylinders. The hospital has allegedly failed to pay the bills which have been pending for the last eight months -- Rs 4.5 lakh -- to the firm that supplied it liquid oxygen. In response, the primary oxygen supply line has been blocked by the firm.


Out of air: The cylinders can accommodate a limited supply of the gas,
and if supply suddenly stops, the patients can be at risk. All major
hospitals in the city use central supply lines. representation
Pic/ Thinkstock images


The sudden discontinuation of supply has literally left hospital staff-members gasping for breath, as they have to regularly lug portable oxygen cylinders to the affected wards and OTs. Around 150 of these cylinders have already been consumed in the past week.
 
"After the hospital was renovated, a brand new central oxygen supply line was installed. Fortunately, we did not discard the previously used oxygen line, and can still use it, with portable cylinders. However, it is risky. The cylinders can accommodate a limited supply of the gas, and if supply suddenly stops, the patients can be at risk. All major hospitals in the city use central supply lines," said a source from the hospital.

Portable oxygen cylinders are more expensive than liquid oxygen. The bills for the latter amount to about Rs 50,000 monthly, but in the one week that St George has been using oxygen cylinders, it's already spent Rs 35,000. 

The other side 
Dr D R Kulkarni, medical superintendent at St George hospital, said, "We have already submitted the bill to the accounts department, which is responsible for clearing the pending payments. We will be using oxygen cylinders till the liquid oxygen supply is restored."

Expertspeak
Dr Gaurav Gupta, ICU in-charge, at Cumballa Hill Hospital, said, "Using oxygen cylinders for patients is a little risky. There is always a chance that the cylinder will get exhausted, and there is always a time-lag while the next cylinder is being manually attached. Major hospitals use only central supply. Doctors would not prefer to use cylinders for emergency cases, as they always have to be watched."

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