An elderly victim of Covid-19 from Northern Ireland was “double-bagged like toxic waste” after her death, a public inquiry has heard.
Brenda Doherty, the daughter of Ruth Burke, also told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that, after her mother was initially admitted to hospital, her family were told by staff not to worry because the virus would be a “flash in the pan and gone by summer”.
Ms Burke, 82, died on March 24th 2020 after contracting Covid in hospital. She was the fourth person and first woman from Northern Ireland to die from it.
Ms Doherty told the inquiry that her mother was originally admitted to hospital during the early days of the pandemic due to concerns over high warfarin levels in her blood.
She said: “When we took Mummy up to the hospital there was very limited (PPE) – just a plastic apron on staff.
“My sister asked about Covid and we were told not to worry, it would be a flash in the pan and gone by the summer.”
Ms Doherty said the family were initially able to see Ms Burke in hospital but visits were later stopped.
She told the inquiry she was allowed to see her mother for five minutes on March 19 after she became distressed.
She said: “I found Mum rocking on her chair. Mum had one tear on her cheek. She said ‘I just want to go home’.
“I took her face in my hands, I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her, and not to worry, that I would see her the next day and we hoped to bring her home.
“I waved her goodbye and told her I loved her, and that’s the last (time) I saw my Mum.”
Ms Doherty said the family expected Ms Burke to be discharged but a complication in developing her care package meant she was kept in hospital.
The family were then told that she had contracted Covid and, later, that her condition had deteriorated.
Ms Doherty said: “I asked could I come and see Mum, could anybody be with her, and I was told no.
“They would ring me when Mum had passed. She died 12 hours later, the longest 12 hours of our lives.”
She added: “We didn’t get Mum’s clothing back from the hospital, it was incinerated.
“I like to pretend Mum was in the nightdress I bought her, but the reality is I know she was double-bagged like toxic waste.”
Ten members of the family were allowed to attend Ms Burke’s funeral, but only two were permitted at the graveside.
Ms Doherty said: “It wasn’t a funeral. It was a 10-15 minute committal; we were timed.
“I went to walk to touch Mum’s coffin and I was told I wasn’t allowed at the graveside until Mummy was in the hole in the ground.”
Ms Doherty then told the inquiry how she had become involved with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group in Northern Ireland.
She said: “I was quite determined Mum would not be a statistic. Everybody will know Ruth Burke and everybody will know who she was, the life she had, and not just how she died.”
She said other people started reaching out to her after she spoke publicly about her family’s experience.
“Sometimes in Northern Ireland, we feel like we are the poor relation, and I was quite determined that we would not be the poor relation.
“Our loved ones deserved the same as everybody else.”
Ms Doherty added: “I am here to remind everybody of the human cost that we paid as bereaved people.
“My Mummy was not cannon fodder, my Mummy was a wonderful wee woman who had the spirit of Goliath, and I know she is standing here with me today because she would want me to be here.”
By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
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