The deaths of two nurses from Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic have been ruled as industrial disease.
Gareth Roberts, 65, of Aberdare, and Domingo David, 63, of Penarth, were found to have been most likely to have contracted the virus from colleagues or patients while working at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW).
Senior coroner Graeme Hughes concluded on Friday that although they were given appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) Mr Roberts and Ms David were “exposed to Covid-19 infection at work, became infected and that infection caused” their deaths. He made a finding of industrial disease.
The family of Mr Roberts had argued for a conclusion of industrial disease while the health board had made the case for ruling that both deaths were from natural causes.
Unions are campaigning for Covid-19 to be considered an industrial disease by the UK Government so workers impacted by it would receive greater financial support.
South Wales Central Coroner’s Court was told that Mr Roberts had retired in 2015 after working in the NHS for more than 40 years, but returned to work as a bank nurse shortly after.
He was working 12-hour shifts in Cardiff in the days leading up to March 25 when he fell ill – two days after the UK announced its first lockdown.
He died just over two weeks later on April 11.
Colleagues described Mr Roberts was “hard-working” and someone “who never let anyone down”.
He was fondly known for calling everyone “cariad” – “love” in Welsh.
Ms David, originally from the Philippines, became unwell on April 7 and died in hospital on May 26.
She had been working long shifts at the UHW’s Llandough Hospital in Penarth.
Her ward manager Jane Linton, who gave evidence during the week-long hearing, described her as “a fantastic person and a brilliant nurse”.
Mr Hughes concluded that Mr Roberts died from Covid-19 and that his type 2 diabetes had contributed to his death.
During the inquest, colleagues of Mr Roberts gave evidence that he knew he was at risk because of the condition.
Jodie Davies recalled asking him if he was going to transfer to one of the Covid wards, and said: “His reply was, ‘No, cariad, my age and diabetes are against me and I look after my grandson, so I can’t risk it’.”
Ms David had pre-diabetes but was in otherwise good health and died from complications such as an ischemic bowel arising from Covid-19.
Mr Hughes said the age, sex and health of Mr Roberts and Ms David would not have triggered the need for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to carry out an individual risk assessment.
He also said the two nurses were given PPE that adhered to public health guidance at the time, including plastic aprons, paper masks and rubber gloves.
But he added that on Ms David’s ward, there was evidence that staff were not following the advice fully, which from March 13 was to wear masks at all times on wards where patients were displaying symptoms of coronavirus.
Mr Hughes said: “Gareth Roberts was a bank nurse who, in March 2020, worked predominantly on a winter pressures ward at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
“On around the 24th or 25th of March 2020, he began to show signs and symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 infection.
“He was sent home from work on the 26th of March 2020, and his condition deteriorated.
“He was admitted to Prince Charles Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil, on the second of April 2020, and a diagnosis of Covid-19 infection was made.
“Despite treatment, his condition continued to deteriorate, likely exacerbated by his established type 2 diabetes.
“He died at Prince Charles Hospital on the 11th of April 2020.
“It is more likely than not he was exposed to the Covid-19 virus whilst at work, became infected and died as a consequence.”
Concluding Ms David’s case, the coroner said: “Domingo David was a nurse at Llandough Hospital in Penarth and on the evening of the 31st of March 2020 she became unwell while at work with symptoms suggesting a Covid-19 infection.
“She subsequently tested positive, her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to Llandough Hospital for treatment where her condition required intermittent intubation, sedation and ITU support.
“She was transferred to the University Hospital of Cardiff around mid-April.
“Her condition acutely deteriorated on the 25th of May and she died on the 26th of May 2020.
“It is more likely than not that she was exposed to the Covid-19 virus at work and was infected as a consequence, and died due to complications of acquiring the disease.
“Based upon my findings, my conclusion will be one of industrial disease.”
Mr Hughes offered “deepest condolences” to Mr Roberts’ wife Linda, who was in court, and Ms David’s son, who was watching on videolink.