The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare had flagged the issue of inadequate supply of oxygen and 'grossly inadequate' government hospital beds in November 2020 and asked the central government to take immediate action in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 123rd report of the Committee on "the outbreak of pandemic Covid-19 and its management", which was presented to the Chairman of Rajyasabha on November 21, 2020 and forwarded to the Speaker, Loksabha four days later, asked the central government to encourage adequate production of oxygen for ensuring its supply as per demand in hospitals.
The Committee also wanted the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to take appropriate measures for capping the price of oxygen cylinders so that availability as well as affordability is ensured in all hospitals for medical consumption.
Agreeing with the observation of the Department of Health, it said the pandemic had led to an unprecedented increase in the demand of non-invasive oxygen cylinders and instances of lack of oxygen cylinders in the hospitals had also been reported.
The report noted that on October 16, 2020, Department of Health and Family Welfare Secretary had informed the Committee that the Ministry had requested NPPA to fix the price of oxygen as non-invasive oxygen has been found to deliver good results. The Secretary had also pointed out that since hospitals are using oxygen on a large scale, its consumption is increasing.
"The overall production in the country is roughly in the region of 6,900 metric ton every day. Out of 6,900 metric ton, the highest consumption of medical oxygen was reported in mid-September, in and around 24th or 25th September, when the consumption was almost 3,000 metric ton of oxygen a day," the Committee was informed.
The Secretary informed the Parliamentary panel that during pre-Covid days, consumption of medical oxygen was at almost 1,000 metric ton per day and rest of the 6,000 metric ton of oxygen was being used in industry, and hence there was a strong need to ensure that oxygen inventory is in place and oxygen prices are controlled.
The report observed that the total number of government hospital beds in the country were grossly inadequate keeping in view the rising incidence of COVID-19 cases. "Data from National Health Profile-2019 states that there are total 7,13,986 government hospital beds available in India which amounts to 0.55 beds per 1,000 population. As per reports, 12 states stand below the national level figure," the Committee noted.
The report also pointed out that the lack of hospital beds and inadequate ventilators further complicates the efficacy of containment plan for the pandemic. Citing the previous year's experience, the Committee said that "as the numbers of cases were on the rise, a frantic search for vacant hospital beds became quite harrowing".
"Instances of patients being turned away from overburdened hospitals due to lack of vacant beds became the new normal. The scenario of patients holding oxygen cylinder rushing from pillar to post in search of bed in AIIMS Patna is a testimony to fact that tear apart humanity. The Committee is aggrieved at the poor state of healthcare system and therefore, recommends the government to increase the investment in public health and take appropriate steps to decentralize the healthcare services/facilities in the country," it had said.