A nursing assistant who predicted he would die from Covid because of underlying health problems lost his life when a patient infected 20 others on the hospital ward, his family believe.
The nursing auxiliary and a patient at the Ayrshire hospital later died. Now Neil Alexander’s family intend to sue the NHS, in a landmark case, claiming his death from Covid-19 was foreseeable and preventable.
They are determined to see the virus officially recognised as an industrial injury to ensure other frontline health workers are protected.
Yesterday, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said he would be contacting NHS Ayrshire and Arran Health Board about Neil’s case.
The grandfather, from Minishant, was terrified of catching coronavirus because he had stents in his heart, hypertension and was overweight.
His family say he repeatedly asked managers to move him to a safer unit at the Woodland View psychiatric unit in Irvine as soon as he discovered a patient had brought Covid into the ward.
His partner, Barbara Anne Rae, 59, said: “When we began hearing about how dangerous Covid was, Neil was terrified. He realised his underlying health problems put him at risk. He had a serious heart attack in 2002 and needed several stents inserted.
“He had also more recently suffered pancreatitis and was hospitalised, he had hypertension and he was overweight. NHS Ayrshire & Arran knew about his health issues, but we believe they failed to take all the precautionary steps needed to protect him.”
Neil’s son Paul, 41, a butcher, said he had never seen his father so worried as the pandemic began. He said: “He’d openly say if he caught Covid, he wouldn’t survive. He took great lengths to isolate, including from everyone in the family.”
Neil, 64, tried getting early retirement rather than put his health at risk. Barbara Anne said: “He’d called repeatedly, but was having difficulty getting people to come back to him.”
His family claim the hospital allowed one long-term patient to leave Ayrshire, which was in Level 3, to go to Glasgow, which was in Level 4, for several days over Christmas instead of the single-day government guidelines.
Staff told The Sunday Post no attempt was made to test or isolate the patient when she returned. On January 13, staff claim the patient tested positive.
Barbara Anne said Neil desperately left repeated messages for managers asking to move wards.
Barbara Anne said: “Neil left message after message, but all he got back was a voicemail from a charge nurse acknowledging his call, but not responding to his request. Neil felt he had no choice but to go into his work on January 15. Within less than a fortnight, he had all the symptoms of Covid.”
When Neil’s breathing became bad, he was taken to Ayr Hospital and placed in intensive care. His heart arrested days later as specialists hooked him up to a ventilator and he died just before 5am on Valentine’s Day.
Neil’s death certificate gives the cause of death as Covid-19, with heart disease and hypertension listed as secondary health issues.
Barbara Anne said: “NHS Ayrshire & Arran had a duty of care. I believe the health board failed to take the correct precautions that should have prevented any outbreak happening in the unit.
“I work in a private care home. The difference between the infection control training I had to undergo every few weeks was starkly in contrast with the annual online training Neil was asked to undergo, as was the availability of the correct PPE.
“Neil took a Covid test before the festive holiday, and it was negative. I was also getting tested all the time, and we were careful to stay away from everyone.
“I believe there was only one place he could have caught the virus – on the ward at Woodland View when Covid-19 ripped unchecked right through that place.
“Neil’s colleagues tell me 13 staff and seven patients all caught Covid.”
One said: “We were angry and scared. The patient who’d been allowed extended leave outside Ayrshire over Christmas hadn’t been tested, masked or isolated until after she became ill. By that time, it was far too little too late.
“Within days, 13 staff and seven patients all had Covid, including Neil. When we raised concerns about PPE, we were told the hospital’s infection control officers had decided we didn’t need full kit because we weren’t doing close contact with patients. But we were.”
Another colleague said: “I feel we weren’t considered much of an infection risk. But we work very closely with extremely vulnerable patients in sometimes difficult circumstances, so of course there’s a risk.”
Former mental health nurse Rab Wilson of campaign group Action for a Safer and Accountable People’s NHS in Scotland, said Neil’s death and the preventable deaths of others is the reason his organisation is calling for an independent public inquiry and tougher safety regulations. Rab, who previously worked with Neil, said: “Sadly, Neil’s death is not the only one caused because the NHS and other employers failed to adequately protect staff.”
The family’s lawyer, Bruce Shields of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “We believe this is the first case where an employee’s family is seeking to hold the NHS responsible for failing to protect against work-related Covid infection and death. We believe this could be the first of many such actions.”
After being contacted by The Sunday Post, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I am concerned to hear of the circumstances of this situation, and will be seeking further details from the board to understand the exact circumstances.”
NHS Ayrshire & Arran said it could not comment on Neil’s death because of confidentiality, but added: “We would like to offer reassurance that NHS Ayrshire & Arran has robust processes to manage cases of Covid amongst patients and staff to reduce the risk of outbreaks developing in accordance with NHS Scotland Covid-19 guidance.
“We adhere to national infection control guidance to protect patients and staff within our hospitals. This includes the separation of suspected and confirmed cases, the use of PPE, risk assessments for staff, hand hygiene, physical distancing and enhanced environmental disinfection. We follow the guidance published by the Health and Safety Executive for reporting of cases and review every positive staff case.”
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