The head of an Indian hospital where dozens of children died in recent days has been suspended, as officials traded blame over cash shortfalls that led to supplies of medical oxygen being cut.
The government of Uttar Pradesh state, run by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), suspended the head of the state-run BRD Medical College, Rajeev Misra, late on Saturday and ordered an investigation.
Indian media have said the deaths of 60 children, 34 infants among them, were caused in part by oxygen shortages after a private supplier cut the supply over unpaid bills.
Hospital officials deny lack of oxygen caused the deaths, saying alternative supplies were found, and blamed many of the deaths instead on encephalitis and unspecified issues related to delivery of the infants.
On Sunday, J.P. Nadda, health minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, visited the hospital in the town of Gorakhpur, 800 km (507 miles) east of New Delhi, accompanied by the state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath.
After the visit, the chief minister urged patience until the investigation was complete.
“We will know – whether it was because of an oxygen shortage or due to a lack of proper treatment,” Adityanath told reporters. “Those found guilty will not be spared.”
Nadda said a team of doctors from New Delhi was working with the local authorities and the federal government was ready to send more assistance. He said Modi was also monitoring the developments.
The issue of the unpaid bills for oxygen supply has become a flashpoint in relations between the hospital and the state government, after the suspended hospital chief on Saturday accused state officials of not answering his requests for money.
“I wrote at least three letters,” Misra told television reporters on Saturday, adding that he had flagged the issue in video conference discussions.
Adityanath, who had visited the hospital on Aug. 9, said no issue of unpaid bills was brought to his attention and all requests for funds were met promptly.