Mark Woolcock inquest: NHS worker's colleague ‘had no safety concerns’

Mark Woolcock who died from COVID-19 on 20 April 2020 at Newham University Hospital

Mark Woolcock who died from COVID-19 on 20 April 2020 at Newham University Hospital, following suspected exposure to COVID-19 patients whilst he was working for Barts Health NHS Trust as an ambulance care assistant - Credit: PA

A colleague of an NHS employee who died from Covid-19 “had no concerns” about his safety, an inquest has heard.

Stratford man Mark Woolcock died on April 20, 2020, at the Newham University Hospital in Plaistow where he had worked for over 17 years.

Mr Woolcock had spent the better part of two decades discharging patients and moving them to their homes or care homes in an ambulance.

An inquest into his death was expected to conclude yesterday - March 25 - after resuming since an adjournment on March 1.

On his last shift - overnight on March 22, 2020 - Mr Woolcock transported a patient he later believed was positive for Covid-19.

He made the journey from A&E to their home wearing his own personal protective equipment (PPE), the inquest in Barking heard.

Coroners previously heard that Mr Woolcock felt unsafe at work and was worried about being exposed to the virus without adequate PPE.

A colleague who was in the ambulance with Mr Woolcock during that shift said he did not know if the patient had Covid.

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Speaking yesterday - Friday - Skender Osmani told the inquest: “We didn’t have concerns at the time about the patient as we were supposed to transfer patients.

“I didn’t make any concern that night; I had no concerns, I don’t know if Mark did.”

Asked what he would have done had he known the patient had coronavirus, Mr Osmani, who also later tested positive, replied: “I would have refused to do my job.”

Mr Woolcock’s death has been investigated by the Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, and the Health and Safety Executive.

The inquest is examining the systems installed at the hospital to try and keep staff safe.

Kwangu Nyirenda, who worked for the trust and investigated the matter, said ambulance crews had “brought up concerns” about contracting Covid from patients.

He said: “There had been concerns raised among staff to on-duty managers.

Nick Kenton, Mark Woolcock's nephew, at Barking Town Hall in east London where his uncle's inquest is taking place

Nick Kenton, Mark Woolcock's nephew, at Barking Town Hall in east London where the inquest into the death of NHS frontline worker is taking place - Credit: PA

“The main concern was the PPE we had, a lot of staff felt we should have had better PPE due to what was going on.

“But because we wasn’t directly transferring Covid patients, the advice was for them to work with the PPE they had.”

The inquest also heard evidence from other health workers, who described ambulance workers having a “lackadaisical attitude” to Covid patients.

One email, read out to the inquest, detailed seeing ambulance staff leaving wheelchairs and equipment used to treat patients “uncleaned”.

Mr Nyirenda said Mr Woolcock had not personally raised concerns about a lack of PPE, saying as an “honourable” member of staff he would have done so.

He told the inquest: “I find it puzzling that if an experienced crew like these guys had concerns over a patient having Covid, that they would proceed with the journey.”

He added: “Mark’s outlook was very patient-focused, but he was not the sort of person who took a risk.

“He would have raised concerns about the safety of his crew.”

Mr Woolcock developed coronavirus symptoms which progressively worsened within days of his final shift.

By April 3 he was struggling to breathe and was admitted to hospital.

In February the inquest heard that drivers had raised concerns in March 2020 about being exposed to the virus while picking up patients from wards where infected patients were not clearly segregated without proper PPE.

In March, managers at the hospital gave evidence that they did not believe workers had been put at risk.