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Psychiatric hospital’s ward clerk dies from coronavirus

Andy Costa worked for Highgate Mental Hospital for 15 years

24 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Andy Costa

ONE of the longest-serving staff members at Camden’s biggest psychiatric hospital has died of coronavirus – as staff continue to speak out about their safety fears.

Andy Costa, a ward clerk at the Highgate Mental Health Centre, was this week remembered in a two-minute silence across the borough’s health trust sites.

One of Mr Costa’s colleagues, a mental health nurse who did not want to be named, told the New Journal his death had shaken workers who are already fearing for their own lives because they feel protective measures are inadequate.

Staff have been issued with gloves, plastic aprons and masks – but not always the “FFP3” masks which provide the fullest protection, the colleague said.

“Mental health is always the last in line when it comes to getting the right funding and support like this,” said the nurse.

“We need proper PPE [personal protective equipment] because staff on the front line here are not being properly cared for. We feel that it is not safe. We are not always able to social-distance. But people are scared of saying no to work because we might lose our jobs. We’ve been given gloves, plastic aprons and a paper mask. There is PPE, but it is not the full, proper PPE. These paper masks only last for six minutes.”

Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I), which runs the Highgate centre, said it had a surplus of PPE and staff were updated each day on the latest guidance.

A statement said: “The safety of our staff and service users is our absolute priority and it is incorrect to say there is any shortage of PPE at the trust, either on our in-patient wards or in our community services. All of our PPE meets rigorous Department of Health standards for mental health settings and our detailed instructions to staff about when and where different types of PPE should be worn, complies with strict Public Health England guidance.”

The trust paid tribute to Mr Costa, adding: “Andy was a highly respected, conscientious and long-serving colleague who had worked at Highgate Mental Health Centre since it opened 15 years ago. Before then, he worked on Elizabeth Torrance Ward in the nearby Waterlow Unit. Andy’s 26 years of diligence and loyalty to our trust were honoured with a long service award only last summer at a special tea party at the Irish Centre in Camden.”

Despite the reassurances, the Royal College of Nursing has written to the Government demanding greater supplies of the FFP3 masks which it says provide a higher level of respiratory protection. As the coronavirus crisis continues, NHS hospitals and trusts in Camden say they have surpluses of PPE, but each week staff at different organisations are raising concerns with the New Journal.

On a national level, government claims of sourcing enough PPE in the fight against Covid-19 run counter to some of the stories workers have gone to the press with.

A common complaint from staff in Camden is that, while deliveries of PPE may be arriving at hospitals, the equipment is not easily accessible and often locked away by management to stop internal stockpiling by staff.

The Highgate Mental Heath Centre has two older people’s wards, a rehabilitation ward, a psychiatric intensive care unit and five adult in-patient wards for people with debilitating conditions.

The 16-bed Sapphire ward has been cordoned off for coronavirus patients only. Its teams also visit patients living “in the community” and the source said that these workers were particularly concerned about going on public transport without proper protection.

“Normally if you can’t get into a block and you say you are from the NHS, at least a neighbour will welcome you and let you in, but it is different now,” they said. “People are getting shouted at to go away. People, particularly the elderly and most vulnerable, are petrified of people coming into their homes.”

Testing of staff at Highgate Mental Health Centre was available at the nearby Whittington, but only to those showing symptoms of Covid-19. “Some companies are bringing in food twice a day,” said the nurse. “It’s good because it keeps us out of the supermarkets. For my colleagues in the hotels, that’s the only warm meal they are getting each day. But we’d all rather have proper PPE than be fed.”

A fundraising page for C&I staff has raised just £240. This compares to tens of thousands of pounds that has flooded in to help NHS workers at the Royal Free, Whittington and University College London hospitals.

To donate to C&I go to

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