The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, in its 137th report presented to Rajya Sabha on Monday, 12 September, recommended a government audit of "deaths due to oxygen shortage," especially during the COVID-19 second wave.
"The ministry must meticulously examine the oxygen-stricken COVID-19 deaths and ensure that proper compensation is accorded to the families of the victims," the panel said, calling the ministry's denial of deaths related to oxygen shortage "unfortunate."
The committee also said that several lives could have been saved during the second wave if containment strategies were implemented on time.
The panel noted that the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases had put severe pressure on the health infrastructure leading to several instances of families desperately pleading for oxygen and waiting in queues for cylinders.
Failure Despite Warning, Says Panel
The committee pointed out that it had warned the government of a possible oxygen shortage in its 123rd report.
"The committee is disappointed to note that the ministry in its submission in 2020 had assured that the country is self-sufficient in oxygen and oxygen cylinders; however, their hollow claim was brutally exposed during the second wave," the panel said.
"The government failed to manage even distribution of oxygen in states and amidst the skyrocketing demand it could not maintain a steady flow of oxygen leading to an unprecedented medical crisis," the panel said.
There were multiple deaths due to oxygen shortage in hospitals and the government's denial of this shows "an absence of empathy," the panel alleged, quoting media reports.
The panel noted there were no definite guidelines for identifying such deaths. "Oxygen shortage is not noted as a cause of death in the medical records and most of the deaths were attributed to co-morbidities," it said.
The committee pointed out that, when asked to furnish details, 20 states and Union Territories didn't have a single confirmed death due to oxygen shortage.
‘Repercussions Would Have Been Less Grave'
Apart from the shortage of oxygen, the committee said the second wave was marred by:
A high number of cases
Shortage of hospital beds
Reduced supplies of medicines and important drugs
Disruption of essential health care services
Hoarding and black marketing of cylinders and medicines
"The committee is of the considered view that had the Government been successful in identification of the more virulent strain of virus in the population at an early stage and suitably implemented its containment strategy, the repercussions would have been less grave and many lives could have been saved," it said.
It noted that the government could not accurately anticipate the gravity of the possible resurgence of the pandemic and its subsequent waves.
Even though states had been cautioned by the Centre to observe the situation closely and plan strategies for possible resurgences of COVID-19, they weren't able to keep up.
"However, the committee is unhappy to note that many states were unable to cope up with the arising uncertainties and medical emergencies in the wake of the resurgence of COVID-19 during the second wave that caused more than 5 lakh registered deaths," the panel said.
(With inputs from PTI)