'Please take Covid-19 seriously'

Appeal from heartbroken family of a Derry man who has contracted the disease in Altnagelvin Hospital

'Please take Covid-19 seriously'

Neil McCafferty has contracted Covid-19 after being admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital with a gall bladder infection

The family of a Derry man who contracted Covid-19 at Altnagelvin Hospital after being admitted for a gall bladder infection have pleaded with the public to take the virus seriously.

Neil McCafferty has underlying health conditions including a heart problem and diabetes and is therefore in several at-risk categories.

Upon entering the hospital the 67-year-old was Covid negative but has now contracted the virus.

Mr McCafferty is a father of five to son Michael and four daughters, Andrea, Karen, Sinead and Emma.

When added to his other health conditions his family believe it will take a ‘miracle’ for him to survive.

Since the start of the pandemic, the now retired man has adhered to all the rules by shielding and when society reopened took every precaution, deciding to spend most of his time at home.

The heartbroken family say that he was the one they were trying to protect throughout.

His son Michael said: “Ma dad is not good, all we can do is hope, but there’s not much hope there.”

Mr McCafferty’s his wife Bridie (below) added: “Put it this way, it would take a big, big miracle for my husband to survive this.”

They made it clear that this is ‘not criticism of the NHS’ but a means of highlighting complacency in the community and government failures.

Michael explained: “This is about awareness of wearing masks, about social distancing, about trying to keep people out of hospital who don’t need to be there.

“This is about a liaison officer being at the hospital to inform families about their loved one’s condition during this difficult time when you can’t be there to hold their hand.

“And it’s about people not having house parties or gatherings.”


Lack of communication meant the family were unaware that their husband and father was on dialysis as the infection was ‘attacking his kidneys’.

The next day they discovered that he had developed sepsis which is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body's response to an infection.

His son raised concerns that while dropping off medication for his father's diabetes some hospital staff were not wearing masks.

They believe that with the rise in local cases extra precautions should be taken in Derry, especially inside the hospital.

“Retail and hospitality staff who aren’t in direct contact with you have to wear a mask.

“But when I went into a hospital these people weren’t wearing masks, it doesn’t make sense,” Michael said.

On Monday morning they found out that their dad had ‘taken a turn’ during the night and had been transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

A consultant assured the family that negative Covid tests had been returned twice but the infection was ‘really bad’.

He was ventilated for fluid in the lungs, kidneys being worked on through dialysis and they were trying to give him strong antibiotics to fight the infection.

They tried phoning for hours to get an update when at 7.30pm on October 19 they were informed that he had contracted Covid.

Now, more than ever, when people can't visit sick friends or relatives they believe that better communication is needed from the Trust to provide updates on their condition and peace of mind.

Bridie commented: “There has been a lack of communication.  My husband couldn’t communicate to me because he wasn’t very lucid, he was telling me that he got his kidney drained and a young nurse or receptionist told me that no it was his gall bladder.

“No doctor phoned me to tell me that he had sepsis, no doctor phoned me to tell me that he was getting dialysis, no doctor phoned me until last night to tell me that he had Covid but we had to chase it up.

“If I was allowed, I’m not saying we should be, but if I seen my husband and the way he was deteriorating I could demand to see a doctor.

“But it’s lack of communication, there should be some type of family liaison to let you know what is going on.”

She continued: “I understand that doctors and nurses sign up to take care of people, they don’t sign up to go into work and take their own lives in their hands.

“At the very start, hotels were open to hospital staff, B&Bs were open to them, they were all shielding but now that’s not happening when it’s rife.  I just don’t understand it.”

After the Derry News contacted the Trust about the family’s concerns they did receive a positive call from a nurse who provided a comprehensive update.


The family collectively understand the exceptional times we’re living in but believe there is still room for a compassionate approach.

Michael said: “These are difficult times but it takes the humanity away from it when in normal circumstances, if this is his last few days of life, we could be there holding his hand.

“I went back to leave a phone charger for him and asked could I go in to see him and was told ‘no, you’re not allowed’, and that’s the last time I’ll probably see him.”

Her voice shaking with emotion, Bridie paid tribute to her husband: “People always think their parents are the best in the world, but I’m telling you now, they have a perfect father.

“He would do anything for them.”

In tears his daughters explained that their father was the kindest man who cared for people.

Recently he did everything in his power to help 34-year-old Derry man, Blian Bowe, who was in an induced coma because of Coronavirus.

Mr McCafferty’s daughter Emma said: “We do not want any other family to go through this.

“He shielded all during lockdown and when it was lifted he wore a mask and wasn’t going out to places he shouldn’t have been.

“But he has gone in there and contracted Covid, with the underlying issues he might not have got out but this has just put a tonne of bricks on top of his other issues.

“We want people to take responsibility.  It’s not about contracting it.  Somebody could go into the hospital with a sore toe and not come out.

“There are a lot of staff off shielding too, this is not an attack on the NHS or a personal attack on any nurses, it’s about people understanding the seriousness of this now and making the right decisions about whether or not to go to hospital.

“And if they do, they have to take extra care.”

Michael concluded: “This is directed at the government.  We need another full lockdown, we need what I call a time-stop.

“Send everybody home, stop mortgages and so on and give people a small subsidy for food.

“This is not the Spanish flu this is worse, because people will not abide by the rules and respect what it is.

“The government is trying to look after the economy.  To put everybody in their homes again will damage the economy, but to put everyone out to work will damage it even more because it will put enormous pressure on the NHS and thousands of people will be off work sick.”


The Trust was asked to respond to the families concerns.

In particular, given that visiting was suspended during the first wave of the virus, whether the Trust had used the time in between to establish a communication channel for families to ensure they have updates.

Due to the ‘overwhelming number of media queries’ the Trust is receiving at present, a spokesperson said it was unable to provide a direct response.

However, it did point out that visiting was suspended from October 14 until further notice.

The Trust acknowledged that it is a ‘difficult time’ for the public and said that ‘virtual visits’ can be arranged.

Visiting will only be permitted under very special circumstances at Altnagelvin Hospital including in paediatrics, maternity, palliative care and dementia & learning disability.

“Our priority is to safeguard and protect people who are receiving care and also to protect our staff.

“If you are permitted to visit under special circumstances you MUST wear a face covering, thoroughly wash your hands or use sanitiser when entering and exiting Altnagelvin Hospital,” a spokesperson added.

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