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Coronavirus: 'Many said goodbye to loved ones in an ambulance'

As a medical examiner at St George's Hospital, in south London, Dr Nigel Kennea's job is to advise clinical teams on completing death certificates, then support relatives through their grief. But like so much during this pandemic, none of that is straightforward.

"The most harrowing thing is knowing that many said goodbye to their loved ones in an ambulance," he says.

Despite staff "going above and beyond" to support patients in desperate times, using mobile phones and iPads to connect seriously ill patients and their families, contact is just not always possible. Even after a patient's death, social distancing has meant grieving relatives are left in limbo.

"Normally, registering a death is done face-to-face with relatives," Dr Kennea says. "They come in, talk through the admin and how to plan for after death. Now, it's all done on the phone."

Dr Kennea's job is to take an overview of all deaths at the hospital. It's a relatively new role in the UK, introduced last year, which is independent of trusts. Dr Kennea discusses each death at the hospital with the doctors and nurses involved in that patient's care, making sure death certificates are completed correctly and consistently. But with COVID-19 deaths so closely scrutinised, there is added pressure and "some are complicated", he says.

There are also challenges with communicating with patients. When Dr Kennea goes into COVID-19 areas, he has to wear full PPE which has its limits when communicating with patients.

"It's hard to share a smile behind a mask and goggles," he says.

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Source: 1 May 2020


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