The Perfect Enemy | Covid: Widow of Aberdare nurse who died suing NHS - BBC
February 24, 2024

Covid: Widow of Aberdare nurse who died suing NHS – BBC

Covid: Widow of Aberdare nurse who died suing NHS  BBC

Gareth Roberts with wife LindaFamily picture

The widow of a nurse who died from Covid is suing the NHS as she believes her husband was not “looked after”.

A coroner concluded that 65-year-old Gareth Roberts died of “industrial disease”, having probably contracted Covid-19 at work.

It is thought to be the first time a coroner has made such a finding for a death from the virus.

Cardiff and Vale health board said Mr Roberts was a “very valued” colleague.

Mr Roberts, from Aberdare, had type 2 diabetes.

His widow, Linda Roberts, said she believes he should have been taken off the wards due to his vulnerability to the virus.

She said she is also unhappy with the personal protection equipment (PPE) staff were provided with and has decided to make a civil claim for damages against the health board.

During the inquest, coroner Graeme Hughes said Mr Roberts’ age, sex and health would not have triggered the need for the health board to carry out an individual risk assessment.

The PPE provided, including plastic aprons, paper masks and rubber gloves, adhered to public health guidance at the time, Mr Hughes added.

head and shoulder shot of Linda Roberts wearing a red jumper and holding her hand to her face, which looks sad

But Mrs Roberts, 75, said she is taking the legal action because she feels her husband should have been better protected.

“I always said I would never take money from the hospital,” she told BBC Wales Live.

“But I feel so bitter now about the way they looked after their staff in the beginning.

“I am very bitter about it because they didn’t look after them.”

Matthew Turner, a barrister who represented the family at the inquest, said the family have “very serious concerns” about PPE and whether Mr Roberts should have been risk assessed given his vulnerabilities to the virus.

“The guidance at the time did require employers to risk assess their employees and work out who were at risk of complications from Covid”, Mr Turner said. “That didn’t happen in this case.”

picture of a Gareth and a boy, Zac posing in front of a heritage building

Family photo

Mr Turner said that while the civil claim is a separate legal process from the inquest, the coroner’s conclusion of industrial disease is “very important” and “highly relevant to the follow-on claim.”

At the inquest the family had argued for a conclusion of death by industrial disease, while the health board had made the case for ruling that the death was from natural causes.

But as well as needing to demonstrate that the virus was caught at the workplace, a successful civil claim would also require the claimant to show that there were failings on the part of the employer.

‘He was my hero’

Mr Roberts had worked as a nurse since the 1980s.

He came out of retirement in January 2015 to work as a “bank nurse”, doing shifts at various hospitals.

He was working at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff in March 2020 when the pandemic hit.

He became ill with Covid in late March, and his condition gradually deteriorated.

He was admitted to hospital in Merthyr on 2 April, 2020, and died there nine days later.

head shot of Gareth Roberts

Family photo

Mrs Roberts said her husband was a “marvellous man, a fabulous father and a fantastic grandfather” and said she remains “heartbroken” by his death.

“He was my hero, my best friend,” she added.

Mrs Roberts said her husband had been motivated by a love of nursing and a desire to provide his grandson Zac with “every opportunity.”

The couple had raised Zac since the death of his parents.

Zac Roberts and his grandmother hugging as they face the camera

If Mrs Roberts’ claim against the health board is successful, she said she will use any compensation to help Zac, 19, go to university.

“That’s why Gareth worked because he wanted the best for Zac”, she said. “I think they [the NHS] deserve to look after the families, not only myself, all the families that something has happened to.”

A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “As a health board we reiterate our sincere condolences to Mrs Roberts.

“It is appreciated that this remains a very distressing time for the family.

“Mr Roberts was a very valued member of the health board and nursing profession.

“We will await further correspondence from the family’s legal representative and will respond accordingly.”

framed drawing of Gareth Roberts's face, smiling, with a crowd in the background clapping

Lawyers for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said they have around 70 similar claims by nurses and their families ongoing.

The Roberts family’s solicitor, Leanne Khan from RCN Law, said her team was handling the “vast majority” of Covid cases brought by nurses in Wales and England against their employers.

“We work with nurses with long Covid and the families of nurses who sadly lost their lives in the pandemic,” she explained.

“At the moment we are running 70-plus cases which we feel are strong cases against the employers.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who were affected by and lost loved ones as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are engaging fully and openly with the independent public inquiry, set up to examine the response and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future.

“It is important it has the time and space to examine the important issues at its heart, in depth and with care so that a light can be properly shone on issues and lessons learnt.”

You can see more on this story on Wales Live, Wednesday 8 March at 22:35, on BBC One Wales and BBC iPlayer