Rajat Sharma

Revealed: Why ICU ventilators sent from PM CARES Fund were lying unused in hospitals

aaj ki baatOn Monday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made a generalized comment raising doubts about the efficacy of more than 50,000 ventilators spread across India. He tweeted, first in Hindi and then in English: “There’s a lot common between PMCares ventilator and the PM himself: – too much false PR, – don’t do their respective jobs, – nowhere in sight when needed”. This led to a storm of reactions and comments on social media, at a time when thousands of Covid-19 patients are fighting for their lives in hospitals, using ventilators.

Naturally, the question in everybody’s mind was: Do the ventilators work? You may not get the right answers from any politician’s social media timelines, but India TV carried out an investigation about the 50,000-odd ventilators supplied by the Centre to different state governments last year.

Last year, when the pandemic broke, there were only 16,000 ventilators in India, but after rapid manufacture and procurement, 50 thousand ventilators were distributed among the states. Last week in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, I had shown how ventilators sent by the Centre were lying unused and packed, gathering dust in storerooms of district hospitals of Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar, UP and MP. Some hospital officials cited lack of trained technicians and anaesthetic staff, while some state governments complained that most of the ventilators were of inferior quality and unusable.

India TV reporters carried out investigations to find out from which companies these ventilators were procured, what were the defects and why these companies were not providing proper service and maintenance. The investigation reports filed by India TV reporters should be sufficient for Rahul Gandhi to open up his eyes to the bitter truth.

First, Punjab where Congress party is in power. Modi government had sent 119 ventilators from PM CARES Fund to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar. The Health Officer complained that 47 of the ventilators were not working, but he was misleading. An engineer of AgVu company that manufactured the ventilators, showed to India TV reporter on camera, how tubings were missing from some ventilators, and how many of the ventilators are gathering dust and are not being used, even though they were fit for operation. Ventilators need proper ICU ambience, round-the-clock power and regular low pressure oxygen supply. Above all, ventilators need trained personel to operate.

India TV reporter went to Guru Gobind Singh Medical College Hospital in Faridkot where he found 62 ventilators sent from PM CARES Fund lying like scrap inside the store room. The hospital administration had claimed that these ventilators were not working. These ventilators were manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd, a PSU company, whose engineers visited the hospital after receiving complaints. The engineers found that in most of the ventilators being used, the parts had not been changed, while in some other ventilators, the oxygen sensor or the flow sensor or bacteria sensor was not working. These parts need to be changed regularly. Once the sensors were changed, five ventilators started working. BEL has, in a letter to the Centre, explained the circumstances in which these ventilators were not being used.

Not only were AgVa Healthcare ventilators supplied to the hospital, but also 50 ventilators manufactured by Jyoti CNC Automation were also supplied. Their ventilators too were not working. Our reporter spoke to officials of Jyoti CNC. They sent their engineers to the hospital. After hospital visit, their engineers said that there was no oxygen connector to link oxygen supply to the ventilator. The oxygen connectors were missing. How can one expect the ventilators to work?

From PM CARES Fund, 809 ventilators were also sent to Punjab, out of which only 532 were installed and 277 ventilators are lying unopened. Last year, five thousand ventilators were sent to Andhra Pradesh, more than 4,000 each to Maharashtra and UP, 1,900 ventilators were sent to Rajasthan, more than 2,000 to Karnataka, and 3,400 ventilators were sent to Gujarat. Except for two states, Rajasthan and Punjab, both ruled by Congress, none of the remaining states raised questions about the quality of the ventilators. The companies that supplied ventilators to these states were the same which supplied ventilators to other states.

After going through the replies of the companies that supplied these ventilators, some facts stand out clearly. One, in some of the hospitals, the ventilators were not even unpacked. They were just dumped inside the hospital store rooms gathering dust, even as the second wave of pandemic was sweeping India. Some hospitals failed to set up oxygen points to operate the ventilators. In some hospitals, there were no trained technicians or anaesthetic staff to handle the ventilators. One government hospital in Rajasthan had even loaned out its ventilators on rent to a private hospital to mint money from Covid-19 patients. In some hospitals, there was complete lack of servicing and maintenance. In some hospitals, some small spare parts or sensors were required to be changed. All these could have been handled easily by the hospital administration.

Because of the deficiencies mentioned above, none can say that all the ventilators sent from PM CARES Fund were faulty and not up to the mark. Out of 50,000 ventilators given to states, more than 49,000 ventilators are already working, saving people’s lives. Rahul Gandhi should have avoided making the generalized remark that all the ventilators “were not doing their jobs”. By making such sweeping remark, he would be sowing seeds of doubts in the minds of those families, whose near and dear ones are on ventilators. The 85 per cent ventilators that are working were procured in advance, much before the second wave, and sent to states, must before the pandemic took a dangerous form. Such an action needs to be appreciated, and wherever there are deficiencies, they need to be addressed through proper audit.

That is why, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered an “immediate audit” of installation and operation of ventilators provided by the Centre to different states. PM CARES Fund had allocated Rs 2,000 crore for supplying 50,000 ventilators to government-run Covid hospitals in states and union territories last year, and accountability for non-use of these ventilators must be fixed. The PM has also called for providing refresher training for properly operating ventilators to healthcare workers if necessary. It’s time that political parties should stop politicizing emergency health care issues during pandemic.

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