Coroner rules that Covid-19 is an Industrial Disease, in first case of its kind

Matthew Turner was instructed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to represent the family of Gareth Roberts in this hugely significant inquest, in which the Senior Coroner for South Wales Central concluded that Covid-19 is an Industrial Disease.

Gareth was a nurse who contracted Covid-19 and died in the very early stages of the pandemic (March / April 2020). The inquest explored the national guidance that was in force at the time, in terms of infection prevention and control, cohorting of Covid-19 patients, PPE, and risk assessments of employees.

The Family had concerns about whether Gareth was properly risk assessed (given that he was a 65-year-old male with Type 2 diabetes, and therefore high-risk) and whether he was provided with appropriate PPE at the hospital.

The coroner heard evidence from nurses, healthcare support workers and a doctor at the hospital, as well as an expert witness from Pubic Health Wales, who inputted into the national guidance.  

At the time, Gareth was working very long shifts at the hospital – and a number of his colleagues became ill with Covid-19 symptoms and / or tested positive around the same time – so the coroner concluded that Gareth likely contracted Covid-19 at work. 

There were extensive legal submissions on the meaning of ‘Industrial Disease’ and whether this was open to the coroner as a short-form conclusion. The Family submitted that this was an available and appropriate conclusion, whereas the Health Board argued that such a ruling would be wrong in law.

The Senior Coroner agreed with the Family and recorded a conclusion of ‘Industrial Disease’. This is a very significant ruling, and thought to be the first case in which Covid-19 contracted at the workplace has been formally recognised as an industrial disease.

The inquest was combined with that of another nurse, Dominga David, who also contracted and died from Covid-19 at around the same time whilst working in another hospital run by the same Health Board.

Matthew was instructed by Nicole O’Reilly and Alisha Collins of the RCN, and worked alongside Leanne Khan and Stevie-Jo Hinge of RCN Law. 

The other Interested Persons were the Cardiff & Vale University Health Board (C&VUHB) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). 

Press coverage: BBCThe GuardianThe MirrorWalesOnlineEvening Standard.