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Ventilator charge gains voice

In a leaked audio message, nursing officer Jalaja Devi is purportedly heard warning others against any lapses and citing how a poorly fitted ventilator tube had cost a life
While insisting there was negligence on the part of the duty nurses who were supposed to keep an eye on every patient, the doctor cited two possibilities that might have led to the death of the patient

Our Correspondent   |   Bangalore   |   Published 21.10.20, 12:37 AM

A doctor has corroborated a claim attributed to a nurse that negligence had led to the death of a Covid-19 patient at a medical college hospital in Kerala.

Dr Najma Saleem, who works at the Government Medical College Hospital in Ernakulam, on Tuesday said an on-duty doctor had told her what had happened before the death of the Covid patient named Harris on July 20.

In a leaked audio message on Monday, nursing officer Jalaja Devi is purportedly heard warning other nurses against any lapses and citing how a poorly fitted ventilator tube had cost Harris his life on July 20. The speaker in the audio message, originally circulated in a WhatsApp group of nurses, had claimed that superiors had hushed up the matter to protect the on-duty nurses. The health department has suspended Jalaja pending an inquiry led by the director of health education.

On Tuesday, doctor Najma told reporters that she was not on duty when Harris died but was told about the incident by a duty doctor.

“The duty doctor had told me that the patient died in bed. Although he had an oxygen mask, the tube was not connected to the ventilator. She (the duty doctor) had informed the superiors, who took no action,” Najma said.

While insisting there was negligence on the part of the duty nurses who were supposed to keep an eye on every patient, Najma cited two possibilities that might have led to the death of Harris.

“He had the mask on but the tube was not connected. Or the tube got disconnected when the patient moved in the bed,” the doctor said.

“Whatever the case maybe, the nurse on duty should have attended to him,” Najma said, adding that there had been other instances that were rectified immediately.

While the speaker in the audio clip had said that Harris was ready to be discharged, a claim supported by his family, Najma had a different take on his health.

“His condition was such that he would have needed oxygen support even if he were to be discharged and sent home. Even after a month and a half of hospitalisation, we could not wean him off oxygen. Apart from being Covid positive, he was obese and had related issues,” she said.

The doctor also backed the audio message’s claim about similar incidents at the hospital.

“During my duty I once heard a Covid patient named Jameela breathing rapidly. When I rushed in, I saw she had the oxygen mask on but the ventilator was on standby mode. The patient recovered quickly when I switched on the ventilator,” Najma said.

On another occasion the ventilator aiding a Covid patient had stopped working.

“When I saw this I told a sister to bring a new ventilator. But there was no response even after two minutes. Then I asked a nursing intern who came into the room. When I went to the nursing station and checked I found none of them had even moved from there,” recalled the doctor.

“I shouted at them and managed to get a new ventilator and helped the patient,” Najma said, adding that things have improved of late.

“I believe things have definitely improved since then. Now, each set of nurses and doctors works in four-hour shifts (in medical ICUs). I am not generalising the deficiencies since lots of doctors and nurses work really hard in these hospitals,” she said.

Dr Joseph Chacko, president of the Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association, told a news channel that finding the reason for lapses was important.

“We need to plug any loopholes and not end the matter with suspending someone,” he suggested.

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