Hospital investigates death of NHS doctor who pleaded for PPE

Exclusive: Royal Berkshire trust launches serious incident inquiry into death of Peter Tun

A hospital has launched an investigation into the death of one of its doctors from Covid-19 shortly after he pleaded in vain for him and his colleagues to be given protective equipment.

The Royal Berkshire NHS trust has begun a serious incident investigation after Dr Peter Tun, who specialised in helping patients with brain conditions recover, died on 13 April.

Using emails shared by his son Michael, the Guardian revealed last week how Tun asked managers at the hospital in Reading on 23 March to ensure he and his team had personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the risk of being infected with coronavirus. His appeals were rebuffed because he did not have any suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 on his unit.

His death has generated substantial publicity with both Tun’s brother Ye Myint – an NHS consultant – and Michael criticising the trust’s failure to provide PPE, amid a dispute over whether it was correctly applying the guidance on protective kit.

Michael said last week: “When a doctor of 40 years’ experience has had to literally beg for surgical masks, and it is denied, something has gone seriously wrong. I think that my dad’s death was avoidable and that that probability would have been reduced if he had had proper personal protective equipment.”

The inquiry is being undertaken by a group of senior doctors and managers at the Reading hospital, which has informed the family of the investigation and offered its condolences.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “We can confirm a serious incident investigation has been launched. It involves senior managers and clinicians who are working closely with Dr Tun’s family to look at their concerns and answer their questions. Whilst this is ongoing, we are unable to say any more.”

A source at the hospital said: “We need to get to the bottom of this. Peter was the first member of staff that we have lost. That, plus the nature of his death, means it’s important to do this properly, so that his family get what they need to hear.”

However, it is unclear whether the investigation will look at the availability of PPE within the hospital or just the trust’s application of Public Health England’s (PHE) guidelines on PPE at the time Tun sent the emails. They were strengthened soon after.

One member of staff with knowledge of the inquiry said: “It will look at the guidance around PPE at the time. But it won’t look at the supply of PPE in the trust at the time.”

The trust is also considering whether it may have to report Tun’s death to the Health and Safety Executive to look into whether it involved any breaches of an employer’s duty to protect their staff.

An official from the office of the coroner for Berkshire has also contacted Michael Tun, raising the possibility that the events surrounding the death will be explored in a public forum.

Dr Claudia Paoloni, the president of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, said: “It’s very sad that Dr Tun has died after requesting PPE. It highlights the need for all healthcare workers in all healthcare settings to have PPE at all times, to keep healthcare workers safe.

“At the time Dr Tun sent his emails, various medical royal colleges and the HCSA were raising concerns with PHE about the weaknesses with its guidance on PPE.”

Contributor

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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