BEIJING - Authorities in Chenzhou of Central China's Hunan province are checking the authenticity of medical-grade oxygen in all hospitals, after a children's hospital was found to have purchased thousands of cylinders of industrial-grade oxygen from illegal suppliers.
Industrial oxygen is difficult to visually distinguish from medical oxygen, but in fact can exacerbate patients' diseases. It sells at about 10 yuan a cylinder, which is 20 yuan lower than the medical-grade oxygen used in hospitals, insiders said.
A comprehensive investigation by the local drug administrative authority into the oxygen being used in all hospitals in Chenzhou is under way, Luo Shengping, deputy director of the city's food and drug administration told China Daily on Tuesday.
Luo said the result will be released as soon as possible. When asked whether the case in Chenzhou is a solitary incident or a common practice in hospitals in China, he declined to answer.
From January 2006 to March 2010, a children's hospital in Chenzhou bought 49,067 cylinders of oxygen - without signing a contract - from Chenzhou Industrial Gas Company, which is not a licensed supplier of medical oxygen, the State broadcaster CCTV said.
In January, the city's food and drug administration fined the company 920,000 yuan ($134,700) over the malpractice. However, the hospital continued buying another 4,919 cylinders from the supplier until media exposed the practice earlier this month.
"The (legal representative) of the supplier is our Party secretary's husband," Wu Zhijian, director of the children's hospital, was quoted by CCTV as saying.
Medical oxygen contains 99.5 percent pure oxygen, while the counterpart for industrial use contains 99.2 percent. The latter has other gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and acetylene, which could cause respiratory illnesses.
"Compared to adults, children receiving industrial oxygen suffer much more harm as their respiratory systems haven't developed well," said Jiang Kelia, a local doctor.
All the problematic oxygen has been confiscated and eight officials from the hospital, including its Party secretary, Li Xilian, were held responsible for the incident. They have either been reprimanded or expelled from the Party, a local government spokesman said late on Monday.
Li's husband and the supplier's legal representative, Chen Heping, are under judicial investigation.
China Daily requested an interview with hospital officials, but was told to call the city government's publicity department for comment. When China Daily called this department, no one answered the phone.
Wang Jishan, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing-based Chinese Hospital Association, told China Daily that industrial oxygen is strictly banned in medical procedures.
"It was the big profit margin that had driven officials to abuse their rights," Wang said, adding that the price of medical oxygen is three times that of industrial oxygen.
The hospital has received more than 40 inquiries and complaints about the oxygen use since media coverage of the incident, Yin Huiping, an official with Chenzhou First People's Hospital, which administers the children's hospital, told the Beijing News.
Chen Xin contributed to this story.