NHS worker ‘did not feel safe at work’ before dying from Covid-19, social worker daughter tells inquest

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.

Mark Woolcock (pictured), 59, of Stratford, died on April 20 2020 at east London’s Newham University Hospital – where he had worked for over 17 years looking after discharged patients and and moving them to their homes or care homes in an ambulance.

His daughter Tania Woolcock, who remembered him as a “nurturing and gentle soul” who was warm, loving and liked a good joke, told his inquest he was worried about being exposed to the virus.

She recalled 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.”

Ms Woolcock, a social worker, told Barking Town Hall her father felt “frustration” about Covid and non-Covid patients mixing at the hospital and “did not feel safe at work”.

She said she sensed “a bit of anxiety” when talking to him about his job.

He “did not seem comfortable” with the “set-up about getting patients from wards” but was more concerned about her staying safe at work, she said.

Ms Woolcock, of Thornton Heath, south London, called her father the day after his shift, which she believes was the start of a scheduled week’s break.

Ms Woolcock said she was “concerned” about him having a blocked nose, though she added: “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.”

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

By the weekend, Mr Woolcock 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, managing to get through during a second attempt, with her father taken from his first floor flat to hospital, where he was admitted.

Ms Woolcock, who was unable to see her father because of Covid restrictions, described communication with the hospital as “difficult”, with updates on his condition being “a bit rushed”.

She said she feared he may have contracted Covid-19 through being repeatedly exposed to patients who had the virus because she was told by a consultant his lungs were “full of” Covid and he had a high viral load.

The 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 try and keep Mr Woolcock and other employees safe.

It was told 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.

It 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” and there were “no symptoms”.

Ms Woolcock said she felt her father may have been saying he was isolating after his last shift.

Suggesting he may have been a little more forthcoming about how he was feeling with his nephew, she told the inquest: “He does not like creating a fuss. He does not want to worry. He feels he can manage it himself.”

Ms Woolcock said she felt her father was probably not trying to deliberately mislead the family, who were dealing with a relative who had cancer, about his condition.

She said: “My dad did not want to overload people with what he would call his dramas. I do not feel he was trying to confuse us. He was managing people’s worries.”

The inquest was also told the family did not want Mr Woolcock to be part of a clinical trial being run at the hospital.

Mr Kenton, of Woodford, east London, described his uncle as a “humble” and caring man and said everything he did was done “thoroughly and diligently”.

It was clear that Mr Woolcock’s colleagues, who contacted the family after his death, thought of him as “well-liked and well-respected”, he added.

In an “extremely moving” funeral procession, hospital staff gave Mr Woolcock a guard of honour and clapped as his coffin passed, while two ambulances escorted him to his final resting place.

The hospital later opened a tranquility garden in memory of staff lost to Covid.

Mr Kenton said: “It is hard to find any comfort from Mark’s death. He was taken too early, just shy of his 60th birthday. He was a brilliant man and loved by many.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Inquest / PA.