‘They’re not even counting the nurses’: Health chief challenges Matt Hancock on coronavirus impact as more NHS staff die

'I didn’t know that. We will sort that out,' says Health Secretary

Kate Ng,Harry Cockburn
Friday 03 April 2020 18:43 BST
Matt Hancock says four doctors 'and some nurses' have died

The chief of the Royal College of Nursing has revealed she is unable to get data on the number of nurses who are unable to work because of self-isolation or who may have died from coronavirus, as four more healthcare workers, including two nurses, died after contracting the disease.

During BBC Question Time on Thursday, Dame Donna Kinnair said she keeps “asking for the stats on nurses" after Mr Hancock mentioned “four doctors and some nurses” have died while fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic.

On Friday, the NHS confirmed two nurses have died from coronavirus: 36-year-old Areema Nasreen and 38-year-old Aimee O’Rourke, who were both NHS nurses and mothers of three. Mr Hancock later said two further healthcare workers have died in the same time period.

Nasreen died in the early hours of Friday at Walsall Manor Hospital in the West Midlands, while O’Rourke died on Thursday at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate.

Mr Hancock, who had recently come out of self-isolation after testing positive for the highly contagious virus, was answering a question by host Fiona Bruce about the number of deaths among healthcare workers.

He said: “Nurses, doctors, all healthcare professionals put themselves literally on the frontline. We’ve seen, very sadly, four doctors have died so far and some nurses…”

Ms Kinnair interrupted and said: “They’ve not even counted the nurses, Matt, I’ve got to have a conversation [about that].”

When asked to repeat herself, Ms Kinnair said: “We haven’t even counted the nurses yet, because I keep asking for the stats on nurses that are ill.”

Mr Hancock then responded: “I didn’t know that. We will sort that out,” before continuing to speak.

Data on the daily number of coronavirus-related deaths released by NHSE is anonymous, making it impossible to identify the professions of everyone who has died. NHS staff will undoubtedly be included in those figures, said a spokesperson for NHS England.

The spokesperson told The Independent: “NHS England has asked all hospital trusts in England to report numbers of staff who are currently being treated for Covid-19 in hospital and the number of staff who have sadly died.”

The Independent has contacted the Royal College of Nursing for comment.

Nasreen had worked for the NHS for more than 16 years.

When her illness was first reported on 23 March, she was said to have had no underlying health issues and was described as “normally fit and healthy” by her family while she was on a ventilator in the hospital where she worked.​

Fellow nurse and close friend of Naseen, Rubi Aktar, paid tribute to her on social media: “She was the most loveliest, genuine person you could ever meet, she went above and beyond for everyone she met.

“I’m so grateful that I had the honour to call her my best friend, she saw me at my best and my worst and accepted my every flaw.

“I am so broken that words can’t explain. I can’t believe I will not see your smile again.”

O’Rourke, described as an “amazing mum” and “one in a million”, studied at Canterbury Christ Church University before joining the NHS in 2017, Kent Messenger reports.

It is understood she started showing symptoms of coronavirus about two weeks ago before her condition deteriorated and she was taken into intensive care at the QEQM – the hospital where she worked – and put on a ventilator.

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust paid tribute to O'Rourke.

Ward manager Julie Gammon, who sat with O'Rourke upon her admission to hospital after she fell ill, said: "She was such a kind and caring nurse, and she had a really special relationship with her patients and colleagues.

"Nursing was something she had always wanted to do, although she came to it relatively late after raising her girls.

"Aimee was a really valuable part of our work family and would always offer to help if she could. She was really growing and developing in her skills and confidence and I know she would have gone on to have a great career."

England's chief nursing officer said she "worries there will be more deaths" as she paid tribute to her colleagues.

Ruth May urged the public to shun any sunny weather this weekend and stay home to honour the memories of Nasreen and O'Rourke.

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