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O2 panel likely to moot output hike, hospital storage

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The Supreme Court-appointed National Task Force on Oxygen is likely to submit its recommendations this week and is expected to call for an increase in production, creation of storage capacity at hospitals, as well as a stewardship programme for them to audit the use of the gas, said people with knowledge of the matter. It will also seek the creation of adequate supply capacity in rural areas, they said. The task force is also likely to recommend a robust supply allocation system based on the number of cases, oxygen and ICU beds in a state or hospital, besides home-care patients. This will, however, be a dynamic process, dependent on the number of active Covid-19 cases, said the people cited above. The task force has almost finalised recommendations, they said.

Several states, including Delhi, moved the apex court over inadequate supply of oxygen, following which it set up the 12-member task force on May 8 to address the issue holistically and ensure ‘effective and transparent’ allocation of liquid medical oxygen (LMO) to states during the pandemic. The task force has emphasised adequate oxygen storage capacity at hospitals to address the immediate shortage in case of a crisis.

The stewardship plan is aimed at ensuring efficient, optimum use of oxygen in hospitals and reducing wastage. During meetings, several medical members of the task force cited the efficacy of small steps, such as switching off the oxygen flow when the patient is away from her bed. These have been suggested as protocols to check wastage. The task force sub-committees, which will conduct oxygen audits and draw up region-specific protocols, will further streamline this aspect, said the people cited above.

The other key concern raised by the task force was oxygen supply in rural areas and ensuring production capacity and logistics for transport of LMO to areas with poor access. The second wave’s spread in rural areas showed up the lack of uniform geographical spread of oxygen plants. Cylinders and concentrators were rushed to remote areas to meet oxygen demand. While the task force is learnt to have refrained from quantifying the exact number of oxygen plants to be set up or set out specific targets, it has been stressed during meetings that oxygen availability needs to be sharply increased.

The upcoming pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants are expected to address this gap. More such units have been advocated by the task force. Over 1,600 PSA plants are lined up for activation by July and will ensure oxygen availability in every district. Most of the steps taken so far by the Empowered Group 2 have found favour with the task force, said the people cited above. It has noted that numerous steps are already underway to address concerns and prepare for a possible third wave. Empowered Group 2 consists of officials and experts and was set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to boost oxygen supplies.

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