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Canterbury grandmother died after catching Covid-19 at East Kent Hospitals' QEQM in Margate

A much-loved grandmother died of Covid-19 after contracting the virus in a hospital accused of struggling to control transmission of the disease.

Gwenneth Bowyer, 89, had been admitted to Margate’s QEQM with appendicitis but died more than a month later after testing positive for coronavirus.

The QEQM hospital in Margate
The QEQM hospital in Margate

Her family has now questioned the infection control procedures in place at the QEQM, which is run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust.

The Trust is said to have struggled to contain in-hospital transmission of Covid-19, with more people currently dying at its sites than anywhere else in England.

As new statistics reinforced these concerns, an inquest into Mrs Bowyer’s death took place at Maidstone’s Archbishop’s Palace on Monday.

The hearing was told she had been “very healthy” until she was admitted to Margate’s QEQM with appendicitis in June.

She tested positive for coronavirus 12 days later, and sadly lost her life after battling the disease for almost three weeks.

"Had procedures been different in hospital, she may not have got it..."

Mrs Bowyer began suffering from severe stomach pain on June 12 - the day after the funeral of her husband of 61 years, Gordon, whose health had deteriorated during lockdown.

She was taken by ambulance from her home in Hassall Reach, Canterbury, to the QEQM hospital in Margate the following day.

There, she was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and, on June 14, underwent surgery to remove her inflamed appendix.

The procedure went smoothly, but Mrs Bowyer developed complications once back on the ward, which prolonged her stay in hospital.

Eleven days after her operation, on June 25, she tested positive for Covid-19.

Mrs Bowyer sadly died after contracting Covid-19 at the QEQM hospital in Margate, having been admitted with appendicitis
Mrs Bowyer sadly died after contracting Covid-19 at the QEQM hospital in Margate, having been admitted with appendicitis

Although she initially appeared to be unaffected by the virus, she soon began to exhibit symptoms.

The hope had been for her to return home to her family once she had recovered, but her condition sadly deteriorated.

She was placed on end-of-life care, and tragically died in hospital on July 13.

At the inquest, Mrs Bowyer’s cause of death was given as bronchopneumonia caused by Covid-19, with her appendectomy and “frailty” listed as contributing factors.

In a statement read by the coroner, Mrs Bowyer’s daughter, Rosemary Aziz, told how her mum had been in good health for her age and “had not needed to consult the GP for years”.

Another daughter, Maggie, added: “I do believe that, had it not been for contracting Covid in hospital, she would have lived longer.

“Had procedures been different in hospital, she may not have got it.”

Mrs Bowyer’s death comes as new figures appear to corroborate concerns that East Kent Hospitals has struggled to control the spread of the virus at its sites in Canterbury, Ashford, Margate, Dover and Folkestone.

As many as a quarter of the country’s Covid-19 deaths have occurred at hospitals in east Kent in recent weeks, compared to 1.5% during the pandemic as a whole.

Now, figures obtained by the Health Service Journal, show 58% of the trust’s Covid-19 patients “probably” or “definitely” caught the virus in hospital - compared to a national average of 22%.

A graphic showing at what point during patients' stay new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed at East Kent Hospitals, according to data sourced by the Health Service Journal
A graphic showing at what point during patients' stay new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed at East Kent Hospitals, according to data sourced by the Health Service Journal

The statistics show 46% tested positive for the first time between eight and 14 days of admission, with official guidance describing these cases as “probably healthcare-associated”. This is almost three times the national average of 16%.

A further 12% of cases in east Kent are deemed “definite healthcare-associated” - compared to 6% across England - where patients have beem newly diagnosed 15 or more days after admission.

The figures relate to the period between June 20 and July 26, when little more than 10% of the trust’s coronavirus patients had been diagnosed before arriving in hospital - three times lower than the national average.

Last month, the trust carried out a blanket screening of all its 9,000 members of staff, which led to 15 members of staff testing positive for Covid-19.

The Trust has refused to reveal at which hospitals the members of staff are employed.

A spokesman said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Bowyer’s family for their sad loss. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this pandemic.

“The trust has had a high rate of patient-testing throughout the pandemic, including frequently testing all patients who are not showing any symptoms of Covid-19.

“We have already taken a number of measures to strengthen infection control. We have daily infection prevention and control staff briefings on our wards and matrons carry out daily observation ward rounds to ensure all members of staff observe the principles of best practice. We continue to follow all national guidelines.”

This evening, campaigners from Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK) are holding an emergency public meeting to discuss the “alarmingly” high number of Covid-19 deaths in East Kent hospitals.

Spokesman Dr Coral Jones of Save Our NHS In Kent said:“If people are actually catching the virus by going into our hospitals, then this is alarming. This is literally a matter of life and death."

Dr Coral Jones. Picture: SONIK
Dr Coral Jones. Picture: SONIK

“Infection rates in the community outside the hospitals are not especially high, so it has to be down to what’s going on in the hospitals. I believe that must come down to management”

Dr Jones stresses she doesn’t believe doctors and nurses in the trust are to blame.

She said: “I believe most staff in the trust are working their hearts out for their patients - but I think they are being let down by gross mismanagement at the highest levels.”

SONIK’s public meeting will be held online via Zoom at 6pm today, with speakers including Andrew Scott-Clark, director of public health for Kent County Council.

All are welcome to take part, using the meeting ID 822 1948 5874.

To keep up-to-date with all the latest developments with your local hospitals and other health stories, click here.

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