Several states are suffering due to shortage of oxygen cylinders in various hospitals. Twitter and other social media are teeming with tweets and messages seeking help for their relatives or friends who are down with COVID. But in Tamil Nadu, even though the cases are rising, the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation (TNMSC) has assured that hospitals in the state have enough oxygen cylinders.
“There are seven manufacturing units and all have increased storage capacity. The state may not face shortage of oxygen,” said TNMSC Managing Director, P Umanath. In 2020, when COVID-19 cases peaked, government and private hospitals required 280 metric tonnes of oxygen. This year with the active cases touching close to 50,000, the state has been using 175 metric tonnes of oxygen, pointed out Umanath.
According to epidemiologists, cases are likely to increase further and in this situation will hospitals in the state have adequate oxygen?
“In the pre-COVID times, government hospitals in the state had a capacity to hold 325KL of oxygen, in the form of liquid as it is easy for transportation,” said a health department official adding that now, the state has augmented the capacity at government hospitals to 780KL and private hospitals have a capacity of another 350KL. “Additionally, several secondary and primary care hospitals store oxygen in cylinders as well. If we add up all of this, we now have a capacity of storing 1,167 KL,” he added.
Out of the seven major manufacturers, at least three supply oxygen to the tertiary government institutions, which account for 90 per cent of oxygen demand in the government sector, through installed liquid oxygen tanks. Smaller government hospitals get their oxygen supply from dealers through refilled cylinders. There are several suppliers and dealers, who supply oxygen to companies through cylinders.
“In July last year, we had 57,968 active cases and the oxygen requirement jumped to 280 metric tonnes. On an average, hospitals in Tamil Nadu require about 180 metric tonnes with around 46,000 active cases. It would be difficult to know exactly what will be the number of active cases in the present wave,” said the official.
If active cases double, the estimate for oxygen requirement will scale up to around 500 metric tonnes. “If we assume that the 27,299 non-ICU beds and 7,771 ICU beds are occupied, we may still not have a requirement of more than 900 metric tonnes. If the requirement is higher, we can cut down on industrial supply. As of now, we are planning for refill of tanks once every three days,” he added.
The government pays between around ₹15.5 to ₹20 per cubic metre volume, inclusive of increased transport costs. The private hospitals may pay a little higher.
Prices of oxygen cylinders in the state have not increased as of now. “As far as government hospitals are concerned the rates are fixed by TNMSC under a multi-year rate contract with applicable escalations over the years. All vendors abide by such mutually agreed pricing,” said the official.