Wed | Oct 20, 2021

Letter of the Day | We need to know how many people died of oxygen shortage

Published:Thursday | September 16, 2021 | 12:06 AM


The chief medical officer, Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, is reported to have said that it would not be possible to state if any patients who died from COVID-19 on the weekend when oxygen supplies were low, could have their death directly attributable to the lack of oxygen. She defended this by stating that “the pathology of severe COVID is such that most deaths are going to result from respiratory failure and multi-organ involvement, and hence it will be difficult to say that the cause of death was due to reduced oxygen supplies”. I find this surprising and somewhat disingenuous.

Let me suggest to Dr Bisasor-McKenzie how she could at least have an idea of patients who died directly from oxygen shortage on that fateful weekend.

First, she would need to identify all the patients who died on the weekend. Then she would want the number from that group who were on oxygen during that weekend. She then needs to identify, from this smaller group, those people who were on oxygen and whose condition was deteriorating, despite being on oxygen. These people we would eliminate, as they probably would have died no matter how much oxygen they got. We are then left with those people who were on oxygen, but were stable and not deteriorating.

We accept that the “pathology” of COVID, as she states, means that deterioration can occur at any time. If, however, you have a person with severe or moderate COVID-19 who is relatively stable and who then deteriorates because their oxygen is turned down or discontinued, it seems fairly clear that there is the possibility of a cause-and-effect relationship between the decrease in oxygen supply and the deterioration, or death. The doctors taking care of this group of people surely will be able to give an informed opinion as to whether the person would have died or not, if their oxygen supply had been adequate.

Seems straightforward to me, Dr Bisasor-McKenzie.