File photo for representation purpose only
NEW DELHI: Days after Punjab and Maharashtra raised concerns over the functioning of ventilators supplied to them by the Centre, the Union government has now responded and highlighted mismanagement of the medical equipment by the states.
It has directed the states to ensure smooth working of these delicate devices, asking the states to recalibrate settings of the machines according to geographical location, check O2 pressure in the pipelines and fix electrical settings. The states have also been asked to routinely change key consumables such as flow sensors and oxygen sensors on time, which it said many states were not doing, resulting in dumping of ventilators for non-use.
The health officials’ response came after complaints were registered by Punjab whose medical officers claimed 237 of 320 ventilators were defective and non-functional in Amritsar, Faridkot and Patiala.
A letter (in possession of TOI) written by the Union health secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, dated May 13, stated: “It has been observed that in a number of hospitals in states, sites are not ready for ventilator installation. This includes lack of availability of piped oxygen supply system or lack of optimum oxygen pressure in the pipe system or even proper electrical fittings.” It was sent to all state chief secretaries.
The Centre has said 60,000 ventilators were placed for order in April 2020 and more than 49,960 have been allocated to the states, including 12,000 dispatched during the second wave. Some 50,000 from this were sent under PM-CARES Fund. Around 4,854 ventilators are lying unused. Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) was tasked to manufacture 30,000 ventilators, Agva healthcare made 10,000, Andhra Med-Tech Zone 13,500 and Jyoti CNC 5,000.
TOI spoke to BEL on the issue of non-utilisation of ventilators. “There are flow sensors connected with the patient’s ICU and then there are oxygen sensors. When our team went to Faridkot, we saw consumables were not replaced. It is mandatory to change the flow sensor each time a new patient comes to ICU. Second, some ventilators were not calibrated along the latitude-longitude of Faridkot during installation. Whenever a ventilator changes location, oxygen pressure must be changed according to that location. Third, oxygen sensors have a shelf life. If you use it with a dozen patients with 100% oxygen, it will deteriorate, it won’t work. Oxygen sensors must be changed, which did not happen in Faridkot,” said M V Gowtham, CMD, BEL.
Another letter, on May 9, said, “The lack of installation might be on various accounts, such as lack of trained and skilled manpower for using them, improper handling of devices…Ensure manpower given to utilise ventilators is sensitised, and undertake required training.” The letter was sent by joint secretary Dr Mandeep K Bhandari, ministry of health and family welfare. In the same letter it was highlighted that 50 ventilators were lying unused in eight states (Punjab, AP, Assam, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, UP and Odisha) for the past five months.
In the letter, officials also told Punjab chief secretary, Vini Mahajan, “The ministry provided ventilators in view of (the) urgency. Non-commissioning of the same defeats the very purpose of the exercise.”