First NHS consultant dies from Covid-19

Matthew Weaver
Photograph: Richard Vernalls/PA

A 55-year-old hospital consultant has died of coronavirus, underlining the danger to frontline NHS workers.

NHS England said that Amged el-Hawrani was the first confirmed hospital frontline worker to die after testing positive for coronavirus. A 63-year-old surgeon, Adil el Tayar, also died last week after volunteering in A&E departments in the Midlands to help the NHS cope with the pandemic.

El-Hawrani was an ear, nose and throat specialist at Queen’s Hospital Burton in Derbyshire. He died in Leicester Royal Infirmary on Saturday after testing positive for Covid-19.

Prof Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “The NHS is a family and we all feel deeply the loss of any of our colleagues, as we all continue to unite and work together to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Amged’s death is not just an individual human tragedy, but a stark reminder to the whole country that we all must take this crisis seriously.”

The deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries said of Hawrani, “It clearly is a worrying event. It is worrying for the nation because it is another death in our statistics, it is another loss to a family. And it will be a loss to an NHS family as well … It is in no one’s interests that we lose our colleagues.”

El-Hawrani’s death was one of 209 fatalities from coronavirus announced in the UK in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths in the UK to 1,228. The increase was smaller than expected, but health experts cautioned against seeing any glimmer of hope in the statistics, as pressure mounted on the government to increase testing.

The Department for Health and Social Care announced that 19,522 had tested positive for the disease in the UK, following another 6,961 tests in the last day. That testing rate is short of the 10,000 tests the government has promised and well short of the 25,000 tests a day that Boris Johnson promised.

The former prime minister Tony Blair joined the former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in calling for ramping up testing for the virus.

Speaking on Sky News, Blair said: “It is all about getting to mass testing as fast as possible, because we have to know who has the disease and who has had the disease in order to get the lockdown eased and get people back to work.”

In an article for the Sunday Telegraph, Hunt said: “With mass testing, accompanied by rigorous tracing of every person a Covid-19 patient has been in touch with, you can break the chain of transmission.

Meanwhile, epidemiologists warned that the death toll was likely to continue to rise more steeply for days and weeks to come.

Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It would be most unwise to infer any trend from a single day’s data. Only when the epidemic has peaked – which is some time away – and we get sustained daily reductions in new cases and then sustained daily reductions in deaths will we know that we are beginning to get on top of the epidemic.”

Duncan Young, professor of intensive care medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “Sadly, this is likely caused by delays in reporting over the weekend rather than a change in the rate of spread of the virus.”

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair of Cambridge University’s Winton centre for risk and evidence communication, said: “It may seem callous to say that 209 deaths is reassuring, but it breaks the run of 30% daily increases we have seen recently.”

But he added: “It is still too early to claim that the curve is beginning to flatten off. It is also important not to overinterpret counts for single days; delays in reporting can lead to the numbers varying far more than one would expect by chance alone.”

He pointed out that one of the deaths reported on Sunday occurred 13 days ago.

London hospitals continue to be the worst hit by the pandemic. Of the 190 deaths recorded in England in the last 24 hours, 15 were at Barts Health trust, 10 at the Royal Free, and seven at Lewisham and Greenwich.

But the figures also confirm that hospitals in the Midlands are facing growing pressure. There were seven deaths at University Hospitals Birmingham and six at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals.

The latest figures also included six more deaths in Northern Ireland, taking its total to 21, one more in Scotland, where the total is 41, and 10 more in Wales, bringing its total to 48.

Public Health Wales revealed that 514, or more than 41% of Wales’s 1,241 confirmed coronavirus cases, were in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. The area includes Newport’s Royal Gwent Hospital, which has been badly hit by the virus. Last weekend it was announced that five patients had died there, including Marita Edwards, the first victim of hospital-acquired coronavirus in the UK.