Inquest: NHS worker who died from Covid-19 ‘did not feel safe’ without PPE

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

An NHS employee who died from Covid-19 “did not feel safe” at work in the early days of the pandemic, his daughter has said.

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

The 59-year-old spent close to two decades with the Plaistow facility where he looked after discharged patients and moved them to their homes or care homes in an ambulance.

Daughter Tania Woolcock - who recalled her dad as a “nurturing and gentle soul” who was warm, loving and fond of a good joke - told his inquest he was worried about being exposed to the virus.

She referenced a telephone conversation before his last shift, overnight on March 22, 2020, where he said he had collected his own personal protective equipment (PPE).

She said in a statement: “Dad was not happy about going into the wards of the hospital with Covid-19 patients without any protection.

“Dad told me that patient transport services did not provide PPE to him.”

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Ms Woolcock, a social worker, told the proceedings at Barking Town Hall that her father felt “frustration” about Covid and non-Covid patients mixing at the hospital.

She detected “a bit of anxiety” when talking to her dad about his job, adding that he “did not seem comfortable” with the set-up relating to getting patients from wards.

Ms Woolcock, of Thornton Heath in south London, called her father the day after his shift and was “concerned” to find he had a blocked nose - first thought to be unrelated.

“Given the setting that he worked in, it was always in the back of my mind that he could have exposure to Covid, but initially I did agree with what his rationale was – which was that it was probably just a cold," she said.

Within days, Mr Woolcock was also suffering from aggressive hiccups, a temperature, cold sweats, and a loss of taste and smell.

By the weekend, he said he was ill and would not be going back to work.

Ms Woolcock’s regular calls to her father became difficult as he was not speaking clearly and she had to “draw things out of him” because he did not want to create a fuss.

In one video call, she saw him sweating profusely and slumped in bed.

By April 3, he was struggling to breathe, the inquest was told.

Ms Woolcock called 999 and managed to get through on the second attempt, after which her father was taken from his first floor flat to the hospital.

Unable to see her father following admission because of Covid restrictions, she described communication with the hospital as “difficult”, with updates on his condition being “a bit rushed”.

The social worker said she feared her father may have contracted the virus through repeated exposure to infected patients, after a consultant told her his lungs were “full of” Covid and that he had a high viral load.

It was told that Mr Woolcock, from a close-knit Jamaican family, sent a text to his nephew Nick Kenton in the days before he was admitted to hospital.

The message said he was “off work and self-isolating for seven days” and that he had been “on the same ward as a positive patient without PPE”.

He also told his nephew that there were “no symptoms”.

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

The inquest - set to last until March 4 - will look into the systems put in place at the hospital to protect Mr Woolcock and other employees.