Published: 06:00, 30 July 2020
| Updated: 07:50, 30 July 2020
A grieving widow has slammed a hospitals trust at the centre of a Covid-19 deaths crisis as she fears her husband died after catching the virus on a ward.
Dick Lukehurst, from Stodmarsh, had undergone surgery on a broken leg at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital after strictly shielding at home for three months.
Thelma Lukehurst speaks to KMTV
The retired BT engineer tested negative for coronavirus on admission to hospital but positive four days later.
His condition deteriorated and on July 20 his wife, Thelma, says he died a “lonely, miserable death”.
Mrs Lukehurst, who had only been allowed to see her husband of 43 years twice in two months, said: “Surely a hospital should be a place to make you well, not give you a deadly illness.”
In recent weeks, more people have been dying with Covid-19 at sites run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust - including the William Harvey - than anywhere else in England.
Last week the seven deaths in its hospitals accounted for almost a sixth of those recorded nationally, and the week before one in four.
Mr Lukehurst underwent surgery at the William Harvey after suffering a fractured femur in a fall in the garden.
Before the 91-year-old’s admission on May 28, the couple had been carefully isolating themselves at home - not seeing family and having their shopping dropped in a front porch.
“He came through the operation at the William Harvey really well and was in good spirits, and even said, ‘at least I haven’t got Covid’,” Mrs Lukehurst, 88, said.
“He was mentally alert with a good sense of humour, but then he tested positive for the virus and gradually found it more difficult to talk as it took hold.
“I was allowed to visit him on July 3 and he was so pleased and asked when I would be coming again.
“We talked on the phone and by July 12 he was Covid-free, but the infection had done a lot of damage.
“Being in that bed alone and unable to move must have been hell for him.”
Tearfully recalling one of their last conversations, Mrs Lukehurst added: “He told me not to reproach myself and that we had had 43 wonderful years together. After that he was just too weak to hold the phone.
“Being so cut off from his family and alone broke his spirit completely.
“I was the only one allowed to visit. His son, Paul, didn’t see him in all the time he was in hospital, which was very sad for them both.
“The last time I was allowed in was on July 19. He couldn’t talk but I could see in his eyes that he could hear me.
“But the doctors told me they couldn’t do anything more for him.
“I went to the ward the following day and they just came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry love, he’s passed’”.
An inquest into Mr Lukehurst’s death opened yesterday (Wednesday), where it was revealed he had died of acute bronchopneumonia, with Covid-19 a contributory factor.
In-hospital transmission is thought to have been a major factor in the spike in deaths across East Kent, and last week the trust’s 9,000 staff were tested in a five-day blitz, with 15 positive cases confirmed.
Infection control specialists have also been sent to the trust’s hospitals to help staff.
Mrs Lukehurst believes her husband’s death was avoidable.
“Now it’s clear the hospital was not operating satisfactory practices when Dick was admitted,” she said.
“I saw people just walking onto the ward without wearing face masks and no one’s temperature being taken, although that did later change.
“I just want them to acknowledge there were failings and apologise and recognise that Dick should not have caught Covid on the ward.”
Mrs Lukehurst and her stepson are now preparing to make a formal complaint through the Patient Advice and Liaison Service, known as PALS
She added: “Yes, Dick was a little frail, but after his operation I was hoping he would come home again and we would have some precious time together.
“I am just so sad that his last few weeks were so lonely. It was a miserable way for his life to end.”
The East Kent Hospitals Trust says it is “impossible” to determine where Dick Lukehurst contracted Covid-19 - a statement branded “complete rubbish” by his widow.
Hospital bosses say despite the great-grandad testing negative on his admission, and positive four days later, there is no evidence to show where he caught the virus.
They point to the incubation period of Covid-19 - the length of time before symptoms typically emerge - being up to 14 days, although the median is five days.
But if Mr Lukehurst did catch the virus before his admission, his first test result would have had to have been a false negative.
Research shows this is possible in some cases if a test is completed too early after exposure.
Mrs Lukehurst branded the suggestion her husband already had Covid-19 when he was admitted to hospital as “absurd”.
“It’s absolute rubbish,” she said.
“My husband and I could not have isolated ourselves more in lockdown.
“We had no visitors whatsoever - not even family - and our front porch acted as an airlock in which our shopping was delivered and left.
“Ifhe had it before he went into hospital, then why didn’t I get it because I was in close contact with him every day?
“I think the whole suggestion is absurd and they are just trying to pass the buck and cover up.”
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: “We would like to offer our condolences to Mrs Lukehurst on the death of her husband.
“The virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days and as Mr Lukehurst tested positive within four days of being admitted to hospital it is impossible to determine the source of his infection and there is no evidence that he contracted Covid in our hospital.
“Older, frail people are unfortunately particularly susceptible to Covid-19 and our staff worked hard to provide the best possible treatment to Mr Lukehurst throughout his time with us and we are very sad at his passing.”