Daughter rues missed opportunity to diagnose beloved health worker's Covid

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has paid tribute to Christine Emerson, who worked as a healthcare assis

Christine Emerson, who worked as a healthcare assistant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital before contracting Covid - Credit: QEH

The family of a health assistant believed to be the first NHS worker in East Anglia to have died of Covid-19 have rued a missed opportunity to address her condition sooner.

Chrissie Emerson, who worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, was sent home from work in the days leading to her death with a high temperature, but this was not followed up with PCR test.

A few days later she admitted herself to A&E at the hospital and tested positive for Covid, dying on April 19 at the age of 64.

At an inquest into her death held at County Hall, it emerged that she did not receive a PCR test before being sent home.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital CEO Caroline Shaw. Picture: Ian Burt

A minute's silence was held at the QEH following Chrissie Emerson's death to honour her and others who died from Covid - Credit: Archant

And while her family said the care she received at the hospital after being admitted was "outstanding" they questioned why she hadn't received a test before being sent home.

Her daughter, Joanna, said: "I feel that if she had been tested there would have been a bigger window in which something could have been done."

The inquest resumed after being adjourned at a previous hearing in January, after the family question why she had not been told to work from home during the early stages of the pandemic. Mrs Emerson had a number of complex medical conditions and had been identified as being vulnerable.

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However, the inquest heard that this had not resulted in her receiving a government letter ordering her to shield and, as a result, the hospital could only advise her to stay at home, as ordering her would have put them at risk of tribunal action.

And, ultimately, Mrs Emerson made the conscious decision to carry on working, with a statement from, Dr Imran Ahmed, her GP, telling the hearing that she "feared letting people down".

He said: "She was anxious to go back to work and thought that any time away would be letting her colleagues down."

Debra Longmuir, deputy general manager of the medicine department at the QEH, told the hearing:  "Chrissie was very passionate about her work, department and team and was adamant she did not want to work from home or move departments."

The inquest originally heard that guidelines were in place at the hospital at the time which required any staff members who developed Covid symptoms - at the time believed to be a dry cough or a high temperature - would be taken to the hospital's "testing pod" for a PCR test then sent home.

However, it was later claimed that there was "no formal staff testing" at the hospital at the time - although staff members themselves could request the test.

Mrs Longmuir added: "She was very adamant she wanted to work and I feel we did keep her as safe as we possibly could have done."

Concluding that Mrs Emerson, from Terrington St Clement, had died of natural causes, senior coroner Jacqueline Lake said: "Although she had medical conditions and vulnerability, she had not received a shielding letter.

"The decision between staying at home and going to work was hers and she wanted to go to work. This was her choice and she could not be made to stay at home.

"Clearly she was a much-loved mum and member of staff at the hospital. She was a person who enjoyed socialising with her family and friends and she clearly had a very strong work ethic."

Following her death, loving tributes poured in for her and the hospital observed a minute's silence.

The QEH has since dedicated a ward to her, naming a new space at the King's Lynn hospital the Emerson Unit in her honour.

She was a mother-of-six and a grandmother-of-six who worked as a health care assistant in the hospital's treatment investigation unit.

Her daughter added: "We as a family would like to thank the QEH for the continued support they have offered us and for the care she received after she was admitted, which was outstanding."