The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Aurangabad to keep “standby ventilators” as “backup” to ensure that “the treatment or health of the patients is not put to jeopardy” in case the 18 repaired ventilators, supplied by the Central government, again malfunction.
The directions were issued after the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) told the bench that technicians from the manufacturing company Jyoti CNC Automations, along with two senior expert doctors from Delhi, had inspected and repaired the defective ventilators, making them functional.
The HC also directed the GMCH to start testing the 37 unboxed life-saving ventilators in phases. The perfectly functional ones can be utilized for treatment and those, which are dysfunctional and have performance issues, can be segregated.
A division bench of Justice Ravindra V Ghuge and Justice Bhalchandra U Debadwar was hearing a suo motu PIL based on news reports on Covid-19 management in districts across Marathwada and North Maharashtra regions.
The HC first took cognizance of the issue last month after it was informed by Chief Public Prosecutor (CPP) DR Kale, representing Maharashtra government, that as many as 113 out of the 150 ventilators, supplied by the Centre to the GMCH through PM CARES Fund, were found to be “defective” by government and private hospitals in Marathwada. The remaining 37 ventilators are yet to be unboxed, he added.
On June 2, stating that it would not permit “experimentation of ventilators”, the HC had told the Central government that it can’t allow the use of “defective” equipment supplied to Marathwada as it may “cause risk or hazards to the patients”.
As per the Centre’s expert team, only one out of 19 ventilators tested was dysfunctional due to a ‘defective touchscreen’. It said the part would be replaced by Jyoti CNC and all 19 ventilators would be functional ‘very soon.’
The bench noted, “There is no dispute that these 18 ventilators can be used in the treatment of patients provided the same are supported with standby ventilators/ventilator backup…This also indicates, as on date, neither the manufacturers, nor the procurement agency, nor the GMCH, Aurangabad are comfortable using the said ventilators independently without any ventilator backup.”
CPP Kale submitted that carrying out repairs on dysfunctional ventilators from the unboxed 37 ventilators would virtually convert GMCH into a ‘shop floor or a workshop’ and the hospital cannot spare its doctors for such exercise. He said that Jyoti CNC may take back faulty ventilators to conduct tests and repairs and then supply perfectly functional equipment.
ASG Singh agreed to the suggestion and said that in case of a minor defect that can be ‘quickly’ addressed at Aurangabad itself, a team of Jyoti CNC would carry out such repairs at the spot, without disturbing the daily routine of the hospital.
Moreover, ASG Singh informed the HC that about 5500 ventilators were supplied by the central government to the state of Maharashtra and issues were found only in those supplied to GMCH, Aurangabad.
Kale submitted that there are stickers affixed on 150 ventilators indicating that they are from PM Cares Funds. However, Singh, on instructions from Rajiv Wadhawan, Director (Drug), MoHFW denied the same and stated that none of the ventilators supplied by Jyoti CNC to Maharashtra is financed by PM Cares funds.
The Court then dealt with the issue of over 90 ventilators allocated to other government and private hospitals and said, “Since we are of the view that there should not be any scope for any suspicion and circumspection, it would be appropriate for the Divisional Commissioner Aurangabad to collect specific reports from various district collectors, wherever ventilators from this lot of 150 have been allocated, with regard to their functionality.”
Seeking reports from authorities, HC posted further hearing on the issue to June 21.