Coroner says it's 'unclear' whether nurse caught Covid at hospital

Coroner calls for public inquiry into pandemic at inquest for nurse, 28, who died of Covid days after hospital staff saved her baby

  • Coroner is set to conclude the inquest into death of 28-year-old Mary Agyapong
  • The nurse was heavily pregnant and worked at Luton and Dunstable Hospital
  • Her baby was born healthy, but Mary died of pneumonia and Covid-19 on April 12
  • Ms Agyapong’s husband said she was concerned about catching Covid at work 
  • Doctor ‘suspected’ she had the virus on April 5, but discharged her from hospital

A coroner has called for a public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic at the conclusion of an inquest for a nurse who died of Covid-19 days after hospital staff saved her baby. 

Coroner Emma Whitting last week heard three days of evidence on the circumstances surrounding how sister Mary Agyapong died at Luton and Dunstable Hospital where she worked, including claims from her widower, Ernest Boateng, that she was concerned about becoming infected at work while heavily pregnant. 

Ms Whitting was unable to say where the nurse had contracted Covid-19, and delivered a narrative verdict at the inquest’s conclusion. 

The coroner urged Boris Johnson to carry out a full public inquiry into the pandemic.

She went on: ‘As a society, it is important we learn from all the lives that have been lost as a result of this terrible pandemic and consider the wider policy implications that may arise from each and every one of these.

‘Since this is a process which goes far beyond the scope of a coroner’s inquest and the Prime Minister has indicated his intention to hold a full public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic, I urge him to proceed with this as soon as is practical.’

Mary Agyapong, 28, was admitted to Luton and Dunstable Hospital with breathing difficulties on April 5. The nurse was discharged the same day, but was readmitted two days later with Covid symptoms while 35 weeks pregnant

Her partner, Ernest Boateng, said in the days after his partner’s death ‘I was only able to carry on because of the need to care for our children’

The inquest last week heard the 28-year-old had been signed off work since March 12, 2020, due to back problems,

She returned to the hospital on April 5, this time as a patient struggling with breathing difficulties, despite a doctor’s concerns that she may have had Covid, she was discharged the same day and given a course of antibiotics.

Two days later she returned to Luton and Dunstable Hospital, where she was diagnosed with Covid-19 – while she 35 weeks pregnant.

Surgeons safely delivered the baby, also named Mary, by Caesarean section before Ms Agyapong was transferred to the intensive care unit on April 8, where she died four days later. 

The preliminary cause of death was given as pneumonia and Covid-19.

Delivering a narrative conclusion at the inquest earlier today, Ms Whitting said: ‘The deceased died after contracting Covid-19 but it remains unclear where and when her exposure to the virus had occurred.’ 

After the ruling, Mr Boateng said: ‘The sudden death of my wife and the mother of our two children has been the hardest pain to bear. In those early days after Mary’s death, I was only able to carry on because of the need to care for our children and provide them with a loving home.

‘Mary was strong, capable, vibrant, full of life and the most precious person in my life. It is still difficult to believe that she lost her life to the Covid-19 virus.

‘I am glad that those who were involved in Mary’s care in the final weeks of her life have had to give a full account of what happened.

‘I hope that the fact that they have had to do so will remind them of the need to always give the best possible care to women in Mary’s situation – especially black women who are themselves on the frontline of healthcare.’

Last week Mr Boateng accused the trust of claiming Ms Agyapong was on maternity leave when the pandemic hit – despite her being not due to begin maternity leave until April 27, he said. 

Ms Agyapong, pictured with her son AJ, underwent a C-Section a month prematurely so doctors could deliver her daughter, who was named Mary in her memory 

Mr Boateng said after the coroner’s narrative verdict: ‘Mary was strong, capable, vibrant, full of life and the most precious person in my life. It is still difficult to believe that she lost her life to the Covid-19 virus’

Mr Boateng said he was contacted by several well-wishers following his wife’s death, including some senior staff members who were worried about safety at the hospital.

He said: ‘Following Mary’s death, I was approached by a group of concerned clinicians … who raised concerns about their safety at work and the lack of protective equipment available to frontline staff in the midst of the pandemic.’

Mr Boateng also rejected suggestions he said came from the trust, that the nurse could have contracted Covid-19 from her father, who had recently died with the virus at the time.

He said: ‘Mary never saw him or anyone outside of work.’

Earlier at the hearing, Mr Boateng told the inquest his partner felt ‘pressured’ to return to work where she caught the virus.  

Mr Boateng said he strongly believed his wife, originally from Ghana, contracted coronavirus while at work. 

Ms Agyapong’s baby, also named Mary, was delivered by caesarean section on April 8, but the nurse died in intensive care four days later. Her widower, Ernest Boateng says she was ‘very concerned,’ about working in hospital during the pandemic

Giving evidence to the inquest, Mr Boateng said: ‘Mary continued to work during this time (the start of the coronavirus outbreak), but she was very concerned about the situation involving Covid-19, so much so that when she came home from work she would take her clothes off at the front door and take a shower immediately. 

‘She was very worried about bringing Covid into the home.’

Mr Boateng, a mental health worker currently studying for a Masters in law, said she also began sleeping in the spare room at the family home to protect her husband and their son, AJ.

Mr Boateng, 30, added: ‘She told me the staff were very scared about the virus because they were on the front line and likely to come into contact with Covid-19 patients.

‘I wanted her to stay at home. But due to high demand at the hospital, she had to continue working.

‘She tried to reassure me that everything would be okay but I could understand she was anxious and panicking deep down.’

Dr William Manning, who decided to discharge Ms Agyapong on her initial admission to hospital, told the inquest he ‘suspected she had Covid-19’, but sent her home because she did not require oxygen.

The inquest last week heard the 28-year-old had been signed off work since March 12, 2020, due to back problems

A doctor who treated Ms Agyapong on April 5 told an inquest he ‘suspected’ she had Covid-19, but sent her home as she did not require oxygen 

Dr Manning added: ‘She didn’t seem particularly happy to go home.’

Other medical staff told the coroner they were satisfied with the care provided to Ms Agyapong, and said her condition deteriorated rapidly.

Dr Deborah Shaw, an intensive care consultant who saw Ms Agyapong the day after she gave birth, said: ‘I was very happy with the level of care she was getting.’

Dr Muhammad Peerbhoy, a consultant physician who saw the patient the same day, added: ‘In my opinion, I think the treatment was proportionate.’

The coroner said she had not been pointed to any systemic failures at the hospital, and suggested it may not be possible to conclude the circumstances in which Ms Agyapong contracted Covid-19.

A crowdfunding campaign for Ms Agyapong’s two children, set up in the wake of her death, has raised almost £200,000 to date.

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