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‘165 ventilators Srinagar received from PM CARES didn’t work’

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Srinagar: Some 165 ventilators that Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, received under the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund were found defective either during tests or when operated with patients, an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has revealed.

In a detailed news report by ‘The Wire’, it has been reported that a company to which the PM CARES Fund awarded a contract for 10,000 ventilators was found to have never made ventilators before.

It reports that the Fund’s operators sent the 165 units (ventilators) to the SMHS Hospital even though the Jammu and Kashmir union territory hadn’t asked for them.

The RTI application had been filed by a Jammu-based activist Balvinder Singh, with the Department of Health and Medical Education. The department’s answers were to 15 questions Singh had had about the ventilators received from the Fund.

And according to the reply received, most of the devices were unable to meet the conditions required to “support patient-care management” and that they would “stop automatically”, putting “patients at risk”, the news portal reported.

‘The Wire’ quoted Singh as saying that he was prompted to file his RTI application after he found from conversations with doctors that “a large number of the supplied ventilators were not up to the mark and were not generating the required tidal volume”.

The tidal volume is the amount of air that moves in and out of the lungs when we breathe. A ventilator that doesn’t generate the proper tidal volume is a ventilator that has failed to perform its essential function.

“But [the doctors] were not ready to speak in the open or provide the correct details about the defective ventilators, maybe due to compulsions or pressure from some quarters,” Singh is reported as having said.

As per Singh, he was encouraged to continue his enquiries after a member of the hospital’s Anaesthesiology department “admitted that three kinds of ventilators” that Srinagar had received from different sources “were not generating the required tidal volume” nor the fraction of inspired oxygen – the amount of oxygen available to the lungs.

Singh filed his RTI around the middle of 2020. It was only his first appeal that elicited a proper answer, on September 25, when the Head of the Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical-care at the Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar, replied with a detailed letter. It confirmed what doctors had told Singh.

As per the news report, Srinagar had received ventilators from three sources, and they were all defective.

The GMC’s Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical-care hadn’t put in a request for ventilators from the PM CARES Fund. But it received some units anyway following a reported requisition request from the Superintendent of the SMHS Hospital, the news report in ‘The Wire’ says.

As per the news report, 37 ventilators were supplied by Bharat Ventilators, 125 by the Jyoti CNC Automation Ltd, and three by AgVa Ventilators.

It says the total cost of the 165 defective units amounts to Rs 304.4 crore.

The Anaesthesiology department member wrote that the department received 37 units made by Bharat Ventilators, from the Medical Superintendent of the SMHS Hospital, and that GMC staff set about testing them.

“However, all these ventilators [were] returned to the medical superintendent of SMHS Hospital due to compressor/heat-up problems, which resulted in sudden shut-down of these ventilators,” the letter that Singh received said.

The three units from AgVa ventilators were installed at SMHS Hospital but they were typified by non-functional displays or problems with generating a sufficient tidal volume, the news report quotes reply to RTI queries as saying.

The 125 units from Jyoti CNC – with the brand name ‘Dhaman III’ – were stationed at the DRDO Hospital in Khanmoh, Srinagar. Two that had been tested at SMHS Hospital, however, didn’t elicit a sufficient tidal volume and also stopped working “automatically”.

The DRDO hospital also has 22 more units made by AgVa Ventilators that are being put through their paces, the letter said.

As per the news report, Singh has now written to the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court requesting “serious cognisance of the ‘defective ventilators’ supplied to J&K UT through PM CARES Fund.”

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