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Family ask: Did Adam pick up coronavirus on hospital ward as figures reveal dozens did

Report: 43 patients 'definitely' caught Covid-19 at UCLH

25 September, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Adam Harkins Sullivan was one of the youngest people to die from Covid-19 aged 28

DOZENS of patients were infected for the first time with Covid-19 while in hospital, new statistics show.

Forty-three in-patients were recorded as having “definitely” caught the coronavirus and a further 17 were classed as being “possibly” infected on the wards of University College Hospital in March alone.

These 60 “hospital acquired” patients made up more than a fifth of the total Covid patients in the hospital at that time.

And 15 patients were recorded as having caught the bug on wards on a single day in mid-March at the peak of pandemic chaos and when hospital sources were raising concerns that crucial testing kits, PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] and apparatus like ventilator machines were in short supply.

Figures to see if these trends are matched in other hospitals have yet to be released but all say they are better equipped to deal with a possible second wave while experts are more knowledgable about the risks and transmission.

The family of Adam Harkins Sullivan – who became one of the country’s youngest victims of the virus when he died aged just 28 on March 24 – believe he contracted the virus at the UCLH.

His mother Jackki Harkins told the New Journal: “He was around too many people there, and some of them were very ill. We totally believe he caught it in the hospital. There was no real division between Adam and the rest of them, other than the machinery keeping them alive.

“He went in with pneumonia, which he had symptoms of for around six to eight weeks beforehand. It was just on that day he felt he couldn’t breathe properly.”

She added: “His medical records showed that his breathing wasn’t too bad when he went in on the Tuesday. We didn’t hear anything till the Sunday, when he rang to say he was well and fine. Then that night everything sort of went downhill.”

Mr Harkins Sullivan lived in Camden Town and grew up on the Regent’s Park and Agar Grove estates.

A father with a five-year-old son, he was a body-builder and boxer, but had suffered from occasional bouts of viral pneumonia.

Ms Harkins, who lives in Euston, said: “I’m not blaming the hospital or the doctors. I do blame the government. It seemed like Boris didn’t know what was going on until March 1. I think he was listening to advice from Dominic Cummings, the wrong advice.”

A popular man around Camden, Mr Harkins-Sullivan’s coffin was pulled by horse-drawn hearse down Camden High Street. On what would have been his 29th birthday in July, the family released balloons from beside his grave in East Finchley cemetery.

“A lot of people have said they are glad to be back to normal. Things will never be back to normal for me,” said Ms Harkins, a care worker. “The hardest thing is in lockdown nobody can come and see you. I spend a lot of time thinking about things.”

A report to UCLH’s board this week said: “By March 31 there were 263 cases of Covid-19 positive patients treated as in-patients in the hospital, and 17 of those were possibly acquired while in the hospital while 43 were definitely acquired while in the hospital.”


Alarm about the levels of hospital-acquired (HA) infection has led to calls to designate entire hospitals as “Covid-free” in the coming weeks to protect patients needing planned surgery and emergency care for other conditions. But reports in national newspapers that this was the plan for the Whittington in Highgate have been dismissed as false in an official statement.

A Whittington spokeswoman told the New Journal: “The article is not true and we will continue to treat Covid and non-Covid patients as we have been doing throughout the pandemic”.

There remains major concern in NHS circles about the huge backlog of appointments for cancer, heart and kidney treatment because of the Covid impact on hospitals during March to May. The maximum daily attendance rate at the three main hospitals serving Camden residents remains extremely low, at around 50 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.

A study by King’s College London in August estimated that one in eight patients caught the virus in hospital.

Dr Ben Carter, a senior academic at King’s, said: “We want to highlight that the majority of these patients had already been in hospital for a long time, they were older, frailer and had pre-existing health conditions, than patients infected in the community.”

A UCLH spokesman said: “We were very saddened by the death of Adam and our thoughts are with his family, and all those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. Safety is our number one priority and we have always followed national guidelines for infection prevention and control and the management of Covid-19 throughout the pandemic. As it can take up to 14 days for symptoms of Covid to show, it is difficult to accurately say where someone caught the virus and whether this was pre or post admission to hospital.

“We have learnt a lot since the first wave of Covid-19 and have brought in a number of measures since March to ensure our patients, staff and visitors are kept as safe as possible. This includes dedicated Covid areas for treating patients, comprehensive patient testing especially on admission, the use of masks and other personal protective equipment within the hospital building, and regular swabbing of staff caring for vulnerable patient and in high risk areas.”


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