Daughter of GP who refused to retire amid Covid fears believes he caught coronavirus at work

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent

The daughter of a doctor who worked in the NHS for 35 years and refused to retire when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, says her father did not have adequate PPE and she believes he caught coronavirus while at work.

Dr Ayat Ali described her father as a "very dedicated, very kind, very compassionate doctor" who was known to patients and colleagues as the "gentle giant".

Such was the outpouring of grief from the community when Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah died in December, that more than a dozen bouquets of flowers were left outside his practice.

Dr Ali said that family and friends put pressure on her father to retire when the pandemic first began due to fears he would get ill, "but he outright refused", she said.

"He said he wanted to be there for his patients, he wanted to look after them, he wanted to be an active participant in the pandemic and he just wanted to serve humanity because that's just the type of person he was.

"He was very giving, very kind, very loyal.

"He loved being a doctor.

"He loved his patients from the bottom of his heart and it was vice-versa because since his death we've had an outpouring of sympathy cards and messages and all sorts of people messaging me and telling me what a lovely and kind doctor he was and how he looked after them and that's the type of doctor, that's the type of person he was."

Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah inspired three of his five children to become doctors. Credit: Family of Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah

Dr Ali added that her father's "passion was contagious and he inspired so many others to become doctors" including three of his five children.

She continued that her father was "very grateful" to have survived the first wave of coronavirus and was determined to keep working even when the more virulent variant hit.

Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah worked in the NHS for 35 years. Credit: Family of Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah

However, at the beginning of November her father couldn't be contacted by phone and Rainham Health Centre where he worked had not heard from him.

After the fire brigade broke down his door his children "found him on the sofa at death's door and he was in a very bad way".

Dr Ali said an ambulance was called and 24 hours later he was on a ventilator in the same hospital where he began his career in the UK after moving from Iraq.

She continued that due to their medical knowledge, Dr Abdullah's family knew he was dying and let the 68-year-old know.

"To tell your dad that he's dying, it was very, very painful," she recalled.

But due to his selflessness, Dr Abdullah was reassuring his family that "everything would be OK because that is what he is like, he was telling us everything was going to be OK, even though me and my siblings, we were in bits".

Dr Ali believes her father caught Covid-19 due to his work as he "respected the lockdown" and only went to and from his practice each day.

"He wasn't one to complain, but I know for a fact he didn't have the correct PPE," Dr Ali said, claiming that her father did not have an FFP3 mask or a gown, just "flimsy" aprons.

She said she bought her father an FFP3 mask from Screwfix.

Dr Ali added she believes the government has "failed their doctors".

"I feel disempowered," she continued.

"I'm part of the British Medical Association and they've made numerous recommendations to the government, but I've yet to see those recommendations come to fruition.

"We're putting out lives at risk, but I don't feel there's that acknowledgement from the government that they should be doing more.

"The NHS was already underfunded, there was a lack of resources before the pandemic, we were already struggling and it was already really difficult working in the NHS" but the "satisfaction of looking after patients kept us going... but throw in a virus and of course everyone's going to suffer, including the patients and the staff."

She added that doctors from ethnic minorities are at great risk of coronavirus but "the BMA has told the government to form some sort of action plan to tackle this problem, but that has yet to come to fruition".

The Lawrence report into higher rates of deaths from coronavirus amongst people from ethnic minorities, stated at the end of October that the "government must set out an urgent plan for tackling the disproportionate impact of Covid on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people this winter".

While 44% of medical staff in the UK are from ethnic minorities, 95% of doctors who died after testing positive for Covid-19 in March and April 2020 were from ethnic minorities, according to research published in the Health Services Journal.

Dr Ali described her father as a "very charitable person" who gave "most of his wealth to helping children of war".

Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah. Credit: Family of Dr Abdul-Razaq Abdullah

A JustGiving page set up in his memory has already raised more than £9,500 for Al-Ayn Social Care Foundation which works on the ground in Iraq to help children who have been impacted by war, instability and poverty. 

A statement on the fundraising page said: "We have chosen this charity as it was a matter close to his heart, having sponsored the school uniform of 100 orphans only two days before his deterioration and admission to hospital."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Our deepest sympathies go to the families of every health and care worker who has died during and we are working tirelessly to make sure our NHS and care staff are protected.

"We have followed the advice of the independent experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on the prioritisation of COVID-19 vaccines, who advised the immediate priority should be to prevent deaths and protect health and care staff.

"This group is meeting regularly to consider all available evidence for phase 2 of the JCVI’s priority group recommendations and this advice will be published in due course."