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Frequent power outages claim lives of patients in TN hospitals

Tamil Nadu has had many incidents of people admitted to hospitals losing lives due to power cuts. This has been happening for years and it seems nothing much has changed over the years.

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Tamil Nadu has had many incidents of people admitted to hospitals losing lives due to power cuts. This has been happening for years and it seems nothing much has changed over the years.

The situation becomes critical during the prevalence of a pandemic like COVID when ventilators operating on power are needed to support the patients, especially those with severe cases, and when any power outage for a long period could be the difference between life and death.

That is what is said to have happened at a government hospital in Tiruppur district on Tuesday (September 22). Two patients — a male and a female — admitted after they tested positive for COVID-19 and who were on oxygen support in the intensive care unit allegedly died due to a power outage for about 40 minutes that affected the functioning of the hospital, including the isolation wards.

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Officials said a power cable that got damaged during some construction work at the hospital caused the outage. Hospital authorities, however, said they had power backup facilities and that the oxygen support to patients did not get not disrupted.

District collector K Vijayakarthikeyan and the hospital authorities said the deceased had “severe complications”. A notice has also issued to the contractor responsible for the construction work, the collector said while addressing the media.

Many blame the lack of proper backup facilities for such mishaps at hospitals. They say even when there are such facilities, they are no maintained well rendering them non-functional.   

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“Many government hospitals lack backup facilities like generators or UPS. In some hospitals, the generators are there, but there is no trained staff to operate them,” said Dr GR Ravindranath, general secretary, Doctors Association for Social Equality. “In some others, these backup facilities have not been placed at elevated areas. Most hospitals continue to depend only on one generator for all the wards. They should have a separate generator at least for the for ICU wards. In general wards, we could use solar power,” he said.

Dr Ravindranath said the government reacts only when there is such an incident but fails to put in place follow-up measures. This means the situation doesn’t change much. Also, often, the devices purchased by the government are substandard. Officials get commissions from agents and substandard products end up at hospitals without thorough testing and inspection, alleged Ravindranath.

“The government shows interest only in purchasing products. It does not show any interest in maintenance,” he said.

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The problem of deaths caused by power failure at hospitals became large in 2015 during the Chennai floods. Power failures were reported from private corporate hospitals, too, that resulted in the deaths of five patients in intensive care units (ICUs). 

In May 7, 2019, five patients died due to power outage at Rajaji Government Hospital in Madurai. In June of the same year, there were media reports alleging that the doctors at a Government Medical College and Hospital in Sivagangai district conducted surgeries using cellphone flashlights as there was no power.

State health secretary J Radhakrishnan said he cannot answer questions pertaining to one single incident. “In the Tiruppur case, the district collector is the authorised person to speak about it. He has ordered an inquiry into the deaths. The hospital dean has also given an explanation for the mishap,” Radhakrishnan said. “Questions related to proper backup facilities can be raised during the press meets we organising every two to three days in a week,” he said.

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