Mark Woolcock died from Covid-19 in the early weeks of the pandemic 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.
Mr Woolcock was a 59-year-old man living in Stratford, London. His family describe him as a nurturing and gentle soul, who was warm, loving and liked a good joke.
Mr Woolcock died in the same hospital that he had worked at for over seventeen years in Non-Emergency Patient Transport Services (NEPTS) as an ambulance care worker. His job involved caring for and transporting patients discharged from Newham University Hospital to their homes and/or care homes. As part of this role, he should not have come into contact with suspected or Covid-19 positive patients.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has already examined the death and found multiple breaches of the law by Barts Health NHS Trust, including that there was no suitable and sufficient system for assessing the Covid-19 status of patients being discharged from hospital prior to them being allocated to a patient transport service and that there was no specific risk assessment for the hazard posed by Covid-19 to staff working in the NEPTS.
The inquest will examine Mr Woolcock’s potential exposure to Covid-19 patients at work, and the systems in place at Barts Health NHS Trust to keep him and other employees safe at the start of the pandemic. It will also explore Mr Woolcock’s treatment once he was admitted to hospital. The family have particular concerns about whether Mr Woolcock was repeatedly exposed to Covid-19 and the levels of exposure at work.
This is an important case as it is one of the few cases involving NHS workers that has reached an inquest hearing. The inquest will independently scrutinise the circumstances surrounding Mr Woolcock’s exposure to Covid-19.
For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact the Bindmans LLP Press Office on 020 7833 4433 or email@example.com.
The family is represented by partner Anna Thwaites of Bindmans LLP, and Counsel Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers.
Other Interested Persons represented include Barts NHS Foundation Trust and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
Before HM Assistant Coroner for London East, Mr Ian Wade QC
Barking Town Hall, Town Hall Square, 1 Clockhouse Avenue, Barking IG11 7LU
Inquest listed from Monday 21 February 2022 to Friday 4 March 2022 (10 days)
- Barts Health NHS Trust reported Mr Woolcock’s death to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who launched a formal investigation into his exposure to Covid-19 at work.
- The Trust failed to comply with their statutory duty to notify the coroner about Mr Woolcock’s death under Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019.
- An inquest was opened into Mr Woolcock’s death after the family reported the circumstances of his death to the coroner in August 2020. An inquest was opened in September 2020.
- This is an Article 2 ECHR inquest due to Mr Woolcock’s exposure to Covid-19 at work, which will examine the systems implemented by the Trust to keep Mr Woolcock and his colleagues safe during the pandemic and investigate how and in what circumstances he came by his death.
- There was a notice to show cause hearing on 28 June 2021. This was after Barts Health NHS Trust failed to comply with the coroner’s directions to provide additional evidence to the court by 8 March 2020 and ignored all subsequent correspondence. HM Senior Coroner for East London, Ms Nadia Persaud described the Trust’s failures at the hearing as “completely and utterly inexcusable and disrespectful to the Court and family.”
- This case is unusual as most Covid-19 deaths will be deemed natural and will not be referred to a coroner. It is also one of the rare cases where Article 2 ECHR is engaged due to Mr Woolcock’s workplace exposure to Covid-19 through his work in patient transport services at Newham University Hospital.
- The Chief Coroner has produced Guidance No 37: Covid-19 deaths and possible exposure in the workplace to assist coroners dealing with these case – https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Chief-Coroners-Guidance-No-37-AMENDED-01.07.20.pdf.
- The government has announced an independent public inquiry to examine the UK’s preparedness and response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and to learn lessons for the future. The Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett DBE has been appointed as Chair and there will be public consultation on the Terms of Reference: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/.
- As of 4 February 2022, there have been nine Covid-19 deaths of employees working for Barts Health NHS Trust. This included Mr Van Lang Hoang, who also worked in Patient Transport Services: https://www.bartshealth.nhs.uk/news/latest-update-on-coronavirus-at-barts-health-hospitals-7729.
- The Office for National Statistics (ONS) provisionally analysed deaths involving Covid-19 by different occupational groups for deaths registered between 9 March and 28 December 2020 and found that male health workers had a statistically significant higher rate of death involving Covid-19 compared with the rate of death involving Covid-19 in the general working population: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/coronaviruscovid19relateddeathsbyoccupationenglandandwales/deathsregisteredbetween9marchand28december2020#deaths-involving-covid-19-among-men-and-women-health-and-social-care-workers.