'I lost my father to Covid-19. Now I'm taking legal action against the UK government'

As told to Sarah Johnson

I took my father into hospital on 20 March, because I was sure he had coronavirus. We walked in together. He had worked for 46 years as a community pharmacist and I am a dentist. Neither of us had any idea that his situation would deteriorate to the point that I would be turning off his ventilator four weeks later.

My 74-year-old mother also got Covid-19, as did my pregnant wife. They recovered, but I could easily have lost all of them.

I believe my father’s death, like so many others, didn’t need to happen. I want transparency, clarification of the facts and accountability not just for me, but for the tens of thousands of people who have lost loved ones.

We need an inquiry, but more urgently, given that we’re still in the middle of the crisis, we need to learn from mistakes. That is all I have ever asked for and that is why I’m taking legal action against the government and Public Health England (PHE), on the basis that the health secretary and PHE failed to comply with their duties under the Human Rights Act regarding the right to life.

I am 99% sure I was the one that passed on coronavirus to my relatives. I fell ill around a week before. I rang NHS 111 and waited 40 minutes for them to tell me it was a cold because I didn’t have a cough, one of the main symptoms of coronavirus.

Related: I'm a GP who got coronavirus because I had no PPE. I feel guilty but also angry

I knew something was wrong. I had a high heart rate, which I thought was strange. I managed to get a private test done which came back positive for Covid-19. I was ultra-worried because I’d seen my parents before I had symptoms. My father had otherwise been isolating because of his age, like I had told him to.

Assuming a median incubation period of five to six days as the medical papers suggest, followed by seven days of symptoms, I must have caught Covid-19 at the end of February. On 13 March, over a week before lockdown was introduced, the scientific advisory group of emergencies (Sage) concluded “there are more cases in the UK than previously thought and we may therefore be further ahead of the epidemic curve”.

Even though he was 80, my dad was very fit. When I took him in to hospital, the ward was half-empty. A few days later it was packed. Staff were off because they had symptoms and couldn’t get tested. There were so many bank nurses who were stretched and not used to working in an environment of infection. I could see how things would escalate.

My dad didn’t want to die. He survived for weeks on the ventilator but his doctors and I knew that if he ever came off it, he wouldn’t be able to lead the life he had done before. He would have hated that. I went into a side room with the consultant’s permission in full personal protective equipment which I had bought; Dad was unconscious and heavily sedated. I held his hand and said, “Dad, I’m really sorry that I couldn’t keep the promise I made you four weeks ago saying you’d be home by the end of the week.” I said I should have been more wary, that it should be me in that bed.

It was so painful and surreal. Sometimes I still can’t acknowledge it happened, I think I’m having a bad dream.

I believe the health secretary did not do all that could reasonably be expected to avoid a real and immediate risk to life of which he had knowledge.

Why did the government stop testing in those early days? Why didn’t it inform us when it knew there was community transmission in February? The UK doesn’t have the second highest mortality rate in the world for no reason. If the government and PHE had put this information in the public domain, and people still broke the rules of lockdown, that would have been different. It would have been because they’d disobeyed something the government had done to protect us.

Lives would have been lost under Covid-19 but I believe if the government and PHE had acted sooner with the information that they had, the death rate would have been substantially lower.

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Once these matters are addressed hopefully we can prevent this from ever happening again. There will be more clusters of coronavirus and there may well be a second wave. We need to learn from the mistakes now, rather than later.

More information can be found here: www.crowdjustice.com/case/holding-the-government-to-account/