NHS worker who died of Covid 'didn't have correct PPE'

Four patients have now died at Newham University Hospital after being diagnosed with coronavirus. Pi

Mark Woolcock, 59, of Stratford, died on April 20 2020 at east London’s Newham University Hospital – where he had worked in patient transport services for more than 17 years - Credit: David Mirzoeff

An NHS employee who died from Covid-19 was put in danger at work and was not given enough protection, his inquest has heard.

Mark Woolcock, 59, of Stratford, died on April 20 2020 at Newham University Hospital, where he was “very highly regarded” among staff.

He had worked in patient transport services for more than 17 years at the Plaistow facility, moving discharged patients to their homes or care homes.

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

Mark Woolcock died from Covid-19 on April 20, 2020, at Newham University Hospital following suspected exposure to coronavirus patients - Credit: PA

Ted Purcell, a national officer at Community trade union, told his inquest that he had “no doubt” that Mr Woolcock contracted Covid while doing his job, either while collecting patients from hospital wards or while transporting them in vehicles without adequate protection.

The policy at the time, before the end of March 2020, was that patient transport services drivers did not have to move Covid or suspected Covid patients.

But Mr Purcell told the proceedings at Barking Town Hall yesterday - February 22 - that drivers raised concerns that month about being exposed to the virus while picking up patients from wards where infected patients were not clearly segregated without proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said: “They shouldn’t have been allowed in there, certainly not without the correct PPE.

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“They were being put in danger.”

He also suggested that patients were not being correctly screened for coronavirus before being discharged.

Mr Woolcock’s job required him to be physically close to patients, lifting them and accompanying them in the back of the vehicle.

Mr Purcell noted that while a policy was in place that workers should use PPE, some did not have access to masks, hand sanitiser and gloves in those early stages of the pandemic.

“It was too little, too late,” he said. “It was all very messy at the very beginning of this.

“We can make the excuse that no one has been through this before, but it was 2020, we should have had all this ready.”

He also said their vehicles were not sufficiently sanitised, lacked screens and the space to socially distance.

He described Mr Woolcock as “a very unassuming, pleasant gentleman” who was “devoted to his job” and would not have exposed himself to the disease outside of work.

“Nobody goes to work to die,” Mr Purcell said.

In a statement read out at the hearing, a fellow ambulance care assistant said that in March 2020, drivers “had to copy and see what other nurses were doing to protect themselves as there was not much information given to us”.

Mr Woolcock’s daughter Tania Woolcock told the inquest on Monday - February 22 - that her father “did not feel safe” at work and was worried about being exposed to the virus with no PPE.

He worked his last shift overnight on March 22, developing Covid symptoms within days that progressively worsened.

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

The Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, investigated Mr Woolcock’s death, as did the Health and Safety Executive.

Kwangu Nyirenda, an operations manager for the Barts Trust who worked with patient transport services at Newham University Hospital, described Mr Woolcock as “very highly regarded” among staff.

“He was a well-liked, quiet man, very intelligent, pleasant to be around,” he told the hearing.

Mr Nyirenda acknowledged that concerns were raised about entering wards with possible Covid patients, but said drivers were supposed to conduct a risk assessment, asking the discharging nurse about any symptoms.

He said they did not have to move coronavirus patients before April 2020, when they were trained to do so safely.

He could not recall any cases where drivers were immediately made aware of a patient they had moved then testing positive for Covid.

He said: “It’s very difficult to pinpoint where exactly he could have contracted it.”

The inquest, set to last until next Friday - March 4 - is looking into the systems put in place at the hospital to try and keep Mr Woolcock and other employees safe.