Northern Ireland Covid victim’s daughter tells public inquiry of disgust over Downing Street parties

The daughter of a Covid victim who died alone in hospital said bereaved families in Northern Ireland were left “disgusted” by revelations of Downing Street parties during lockdown.

Catriona Myles told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry her father died in Antrim Area Hospital just days before Christmas 2020 with no family by his side.

She said she believed he could have been treated for a cancer diagnosis if he had received medical attention earlier, but had difficulty securing medical appointments due to lockdown restrictions.

Mrs Myles’s father, Gerry McLarnon, a teacher and musician, died from hospital-acquired Covid on 23 December 2020 at the age of 67.

The second stage of the public inquiry is examining key decisions made by the UK Government between January 2020 and February 2022.

Representing the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, Mrs Myles said the region had the worst healthcare waiting times in the UK, even before the pandemic.

She said: “By the time we locked down daddy had maybe a dozen to 15 attempts to get a face-to-face appointment with a GP. They all failed.“

"As a family we feel that the scaling back of GP face-to-face appointments led daddy down a path that, potentially, if he had gotten to see his GP it might not have ended up the way it ended up.”

Mrs Myles said her father was later diagnosed with liver cancer.

She said: “Every time daddy needed to attend a hospital appointment he had to isolate for two weeks, get a Covid test at an acute hospital setting, wait for the results, wait for the appointment, attend the appointment whereby he had broken his isolation and then go home and wait another two weeks to be able to go back to get the results.

“When daddy was told he had a rare, aggressive liver cancer we didn’t have many two weeks to play with.“

At the outset we were told daddy could be cured but by the time he met his oncologist, weeks and weeks had lapsed due to policy and protocol and procedure in the hospital system, daddy was then deemed terminal.

”The inquiry heard Mr McLarnon was taken to the A&E department at the Antrim hospital in November 2020.

Mrs Myles said: “My brother tells me he remembers daddy waving back at him with his little bag like a scared schoolboy.”

She said her father was moved ward three times due to possible Covid exposure and he acquired the infection after nine days in hospital.

She said her brother was the only member of the family permitted to see their father in hospital.

She told inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett that her brother said goodbye to their father through a slit of glass in a hospital door while wearing full PPE gear.

Lead counsel for the inquiry Hugo Keith KC asked Mrs Myles about the damage done to public confidence in government following revelations of the behaviour in Downing Street during lockdown.

She responded: “It is just disgusting, it is galling that the same people that were making these draconian rules thought rules for some, but we are above the rules and sure what they don’t know will never hurt them.

“But the truth will always come out. We get very angry about it. We are still living through this.

“We will have to try to live our lives, process our grief and hold our loved ones’ memories in our hearts against the backdrop of the politics. When there is the likes of these parties going on, it just adds insult to injury for the bereaved families.”

A number of other members of the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group gathered in Belfast to watch the proceedings.

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