Coroner unable to say where GP who died of Covid contracted virus

Dr Syed Zishan Haider

Dr Syed Zishan Haider, from Romford, died on April 6. - Credit: Courtesy of Haider family

A coroner said it could not be proved for certain where a long-serving GP who died of Covid-19 contracted the virus.

An inquest concerning the death of Dr Syed Zishan Haider, who was a senior partner at Valence Medical Centre in Dagenham, was heard at Walthamstow Coroner's Court.

Dr Haider, 79, from Romford, died on April 6 at Queen's Hospital and area coroner Graeme Irvine concluded that his death was a result of natural causes, with the cause of death being Covid-19.

He became unwell on March 30 with Covid symptoms and, despite treatment, his condition deteriorated.

The court heard a statement from Dr Haider's family, who said: "Working as a GP was his life and his greatest motivation.

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"On reflection, we feel had he been given adequate information, guidance and PPE much earlier, he may have been able to continue doing the job he loved in a safe, protected and organised way and may still be with us here and now."

The coroner called on Ceri Jacob, the managing director of the Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge clinical commissioning groups (CCG), to give evidence.

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She agreed with Mr Irvine that guidance available to GPs on Covid-19 in spring 2020 was different to the guidance available now.

Ms Jacob told the court that the medical centre was receiving the same information as that given to all other GPs.

She said: "The advice we would have been offering around PPE would have been the national guidance.

"We were under a national emergency position and therefore we would have been required to, and would have chosen to anyway, follow the national guidance on PPE as the experts were sitting within Public Health England rather than in the CCG."

The court heard that Valence received a delivery of 300 face masks, 300 pairs of gloves and 400 aprons and Ms Jacob added that she was not aware that the surgery asked for any support from the CCG or a north east London pooling supply with regards to PPE.

Mr Irvine said to Ms Jacob: "You're telling this court that you're happy that at all material times, the appropriate PPE - masks - were being supplied to GP surgeries and there was no concern from the position of NHS England that that was not happening?"

She replied: "No and where practices might have been running low, that was part of their support in their business continuity plans."

The court also heard from Dr Khalid Khokhar, another GP at Valence Medical Centre.

He felt that the CCG had "an adequate role" and that they were sending information to the surgery.

Dr Khokhar also said they were using PPE in the practice.

Asked by the coroner if the practice was aware of NHS England guidance on how to deal with patients in the early stages of the pandemic, Dr Khokhar said: "During the early stage, we followed the guidelines and reduced the number of patients coming to the surgery."

He never felt there was a shortage of masks, aprons, gloves or hand sanitiser in the surgery and said it was aware of what to do in case there was a shortage of PPE.

He was unable to answer a question on how many people Dr Haider had seen face-to-face between February and the start of April 2020.

Dr Khokhar recalled to the court that he went on annual leave on March 9 and that before this the doctors were seeing most patients face-to-face. But, when he returned on March 25, there was significant change and far fewer face-to-face consultations.

He believed the surgery was following NHS England guidance in February, March and April 2020.

When asked by the coroner if it was likely Dr Haider contracted the virus because of being exposed to a patient at the surgery, Dr Khokhar said: "This is really difficult to answer this question. He was doing home visits as well so it's very difficult to answer."

He added: "I do miss Dr Haider a lot. He was my senior partner and was like a teacher to me."

Dr Haider had worked in Barking and Dagenham for more than 30 years.

Drawing his conclusions, Mr Irvine said that he could not say "with any degree of certainty" where he contracted Covid.

He added: "I have considered carefully the role of the CCG, the role of Dr Haider's employer of which he was obviously a senior partner, Valence Medical Centre, and it does not appear to me that there is evidence that I can point at or identify that would allow me to say that there was some factor attributable to those organisations that caused or contributed to his death."

Mr Irvine ended the inquest, held on February 22, by offering his condolences to Dr Haider's family.

"In this inquest, when I'm dealing with the death of an incredibly important member of society who committed himself to public service for 40 years of his career at the coalface of healthcare during this period of incredible stress, it's all the more important."

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