Derby mum and grandma Henrietta Blackwood died after falling unwell with Covid-19 (Image: Derby Telegraph / BPM Media)

Hospital mix-up leaves sisters unaware coronavirus had killed their beloved mum


Two sisters were told their mum had died of dementia during lockdown, only to discover days later she had actually caught coronavirus.

Shirley Barrett and Liz Perry said they only learned she had been infected with Covid-19 during a meeting with the registrar to arrange mum Henrietta Blackwood's death certificate.

The Derby pair were "shocked" to learn she had caught the virus, given more than a dozen members of the family - among them some vulnerable people - had been to visit their mum in hospital before she died.

The 84-year-old passed away on May 7 at the Royal Derby Hospital where only days previously she had taken two coronavirus tests which had come back negative.

The family say the news was a "slap in the face" for a family and a community already grieving their losses to the deadly disease.

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Henrietta spent her last few months in a care home, pictured here with daughter Shirley (Image: Derby Telegraph / BPM Media)

Shirley, her daughter, said: "Mum had the initial test when she was in the care home and that came back negative.

"Then her health went down hill and she went into hospital and as a matter of course they did another one."

Shirley's sister-in-law Liz added: "The hospital said it was only a matter of time that we would be losing her, so they said family could visit, 14 of us went to visit including one that was pregnant. I couldn't go with my husband because we were shielding."

Mrs Blackwood sadly passed away of what was initially thought to be dementia, but when Shirley went to arrange the death certificate, the family discovered she had died of Covid-19.

Liz, 57, added: "We heard from the registrar that our mum had died of Covid-19, it was a shock and it had a knock-on effect.
(L-R) Linda Blackwood, son Keith Blackwood, daughter Shirley Barrett, son-in-law Egerton Perry and Pastor Vassell at Henrietta's funeral (Image: Derby Telegraph / BPM Media)

"As part of our culture we balm them after they've passed away and you look after them and get them dressed, obviously that couldn't happen - you can't even see the body.

"Nobody had told us, we all went to visit - one is pregnant, one works in a care home - and nobody is telling anybody anything, it was a horrible experience."

Following the confused incident, Shirley said the hospital carried out an investigation and "apologised profusely" for the mistakes that were made.

Liz added: "It has been difficult, very difficult, I think our faith as Christians has kept us strong but it doesn't stop the shock of it, when we were told our mother hadn't had Covid it was a relief, and then to hear that she has it's a double blow.

"When we knew her death was down to the condition that mum had, you prepare yourself, but to be told by complete strangers it was Covid, it was like a slap in the face."

As well has being a shock to the family, Shirley and Liz said it had an impact on the black community, which studies have suggested has been hit harder by coronavirus than other demographics.
The Derby family made tributes for Henrietta (Image: Derby Telegraph / BPM Media)

For Liz, the reports around deaths in the British black community have made her feel like "just another statistic, another faceless person who has been put in that category".

Shirley, 54, who lives in Sinfin, said: "You hear it on the news you are more likely to get it, you look at the figures of black people dying and when you think about how many black people there are in the UK, it's alarming."

The sisters-in-law said their experience of bereavement is one that is common across the country and that many black families know someone who has died of coronavirus.

Liz added: "We know that quite a few black people in Derby that have passed away and it has been really difficult, the whole community is grieving.

"We've got family in Rugby who've lost loved ones, so it's only over the phone that we can offer support, because you can't go and see them, you can only offer sympathy."

The Derby organisation Open Doors Forum, based in Normanton, provides support, services and projects to black African and Caribbean people living in Derby.

Beverly Stewart, an organisation co-founder, said the charity is organising a memorial service to honour the black lives which were lost during the pandemic.

Alongside the all-black cycling group Noir Bikers, Open Doors Forum has been fundraising money to help pay for the service, with a date yet to be confirmed.

Beverley said: "I know somebody else who has just died recently of coronavirus and his funeral is on Wednesday, he was 96 years old.

"He was one of the eldest people that came over as part of the Windrush Generation so he was part of our Windrush celebration event last year, and now we are honouring his death. It's a cycle."

The planning for a memorial service is still in progress and will depend on Government guidelines in place at the time.

However, Liz and Shirley said, when it happens, the memorial service will be an opportunity for the black community to come together with "a sense of purpose".

Cathy Winfield, executive chief nurse at the Royal Derby Hospital, said: “I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to Mrs Blackwood’s family for their loss.

"It’s really important to us that we’re able to keep our patients and their loved ones informed throughout each stage of their care, but sadly, restrictions during Covid-19 have made this more difficult than normal.

“Mrs Blackwood’s family should have been made aware that all of our patients are routinely swabbed for Covid-19 when they are first admitted to hospital.

"We should have also informed them that their mother’s test had returned as positive but, as this result didn’t come back until after she had passed away, we didn’t promptly communicate this information to the family, for which we are very sorry."