Probe blames lack of oxygen

An investigation by the city magistrate said deprivation of oxygen was the cause of most of the deaths at the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. The probe report also resulted in an FIR against the chief medical officer and chief medical superintendent.

Haider Naqvi and Rajesh Kumar Singh
Hindustan Times, Kanpur/Lucknow
(HT Photo)

The Uttar Pradesh government was left red-faced on Monday after a probe into the deaths of 49 children at the Farrukhabad district hospital within a span of one month put the blame on the lack of oxygen supply.

Senior officials in capital Lucknow went into damage-control mode, telling the media that the findings by the Farrukhabad city magistrate on the child deaths at Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital between July 21 and August 20 were “superficial” and insisted that the fatalities were not because of an oxygen crisis.

The government, however, had hours earlier transferred Farrukhabad district magistrate Ravindra Kumar and two top medical officials over the deaths.

In all, 30 children died at the hospital’s unit for newborns and 19 died during delivery, reviving memories of the Gorakhpur tragedy in which about 100 children died in a week last month at BRD Medical College.

City magistrate Jainendra Kumar Jain had lodged an FIR with the Kotwali police station, saying doctors at the hospital had “neither administered oxygen nor any medicines” in the course of treating the children. Attributing the deaths to “perinatal asphysia” — a condition in which the child cannot breathe properly, Jain said: “It was amply clear that most children died because of lack of oxygen.”

But senior bureaucrats, including the principal health secretary and the principal information secretary, said the district officials’ transfers had nothing to do with the police complaint.

A technical team headed by the director-general of health would visit Farrukhabad on Tuesday to investigate and submit a report, Prashant Trivedi, the health secretary, and Avinish Awasthi, the information secretary, informed.

“Action will be taken against officers and doctors on the basis of the report of the technical team,” Trivedi said. Terming the city magistrate’s report superficial, he said no action would be taken on the basis of the FIR lodged in the case.

Sunday’s FIR follows an investigation into the deaths by Jain and tehsilder Ajit Kumar Singh.

The duo examined hospital documents and spoke to family members of the dead children.

Sources said it was only when the two officials spoke to the parents personally and over the telephone that the issue of lack of oxygen cropped up.

Farrukhabad superintendent of police Dayanand Mishra said a case has been registered over the deaths. “The police are investigating it and further action will be taken as the investigation progresses,” he said.

The district magistrate admitted lapses by doctors and the hospital. But the hospital authorities blamed most of the deaths on the children’s weight, premature birth, and their delayed arrival at the hospital in a critical condition.

“Mortality among such children is quite high; often we get children who weigh less than a kilo or two kilos. At times the children are born with complications or there is a delay in referral from primary health centres to the hospital,” Dr Kailash Kumar said.

Dr Archana, who works in the hospital’s maternity wing, blamed the deaths on the “ignorance” of the mothers.

“They are not educated, not aware. If their children have water or blood deficiency, they will not know unless the issue becomes complicated,” she said about the deaths of 19 infants on her watch. “Often they delay the surgery, taking much time in deciding if they should go for it,” she added.

Dr Akhilesh Agarwal, the hospital’s chief medical superintendent, said at least 24 of the 30 children who died at the unit for newborns were born at private hospitals or someplace else. “When they were brought to the hospital, their condition was already grim,” he said.