GORAKHPUR, UTTAR PRADESH: The chief of the largest hospital in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur has been suspended after 60 children, including many newborn babies, died in the last five days at the medical college in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's parliamentary constituency. Twenty-three children died on Thursday, when the hospital reported a disruption in oxygen supply, but the state government has emphatically stated that no child died because of a lack of oxygen. It has, however, admitted there could be negligence and has ordered an investigation. The Chief Minister had visited the state-run Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur's biggest hospital, on Wednesday.
Yogi Adityanath said he has ordered an inquiry and has promised "strict action against those found responsible." He has rushed two top ministers, including health minister Sidharth Nath Singh to Gorakhpur.
On Thursday morning, employees who handle the storage plant at the hospital from where oxygen is piped, wrote to the Chief Medical Officer informing him that the stock of liquid oxygen was limited and would last only till that evening. That same night, a report shows, oxygen supply at the hospital dipped to a critical low.
Raids were conducted at the Lucknow-based firm that supplied oxygen to the hospital and had stopped because previous bills were not paid. The hospital report records that 300 extra oxygen cylinders were received late on Friday evening from Faizabad.
23 children died at the hospital on Thursday, 14 of them in the neo-natal ward, where premature newborns are kept. While nine children died the previous day when the Chief Minister visited, nine on Monday, 12 on Tuesday and seven on Friday, according to the hospital.
Gorakhpur's District Magistrate Rajeev Rautela has ruled out any deaths due to shortage of oxygen, saying it had been arranged from other suppliers. Officials say that most died due to infection.
"Culprits behind this will not be spared...The Chief Minister visited the hospital on 9 August, but the doctors there did not make him aware about oxygen," said UP's health minister Sidharth Nath Singh today, amid demands from opposition parties that he resign.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and others visited the hospital and demanded the resignation of UP's health minister. "Heart-wrenching incident. Saddened by children's death. This happened due to state government's carelessness," Mr Azad told reporters outside the hospital. Other opposition leaders are also expected to visit the hospital later in the day.
"Families of the dead were sent off with the bodies, they did not even do autopsies... extremely unfortunate," former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav alleged in a tweet.
"I am pained beyond words," said Congress President Sonia Gandhi, while her son and deputy Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Deeply pained. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. BJP government is responsible and should punish the negligent who caused this tragedy."
On his visit this week, Chief Minister Adityanath had inaugurated ten-bed ICU, a six-bed Critical Care Unit facility at the hospital, which gets a large number of encephalitis patients. Thousands have died of encephalitis in Gorakhpur since the first case was discovered in the 1970s.