Gomer widow’s plight — DailyTelegraph report

A grieving widow has been unable to collect her husband’s body for eight months while the NHS “strings out” an investigation into his death.

Barry Gomer, a former Fleet Street photographer, died in A&E after nine hours with “no treatment” at the height of the Covid second wave.

He now lies frozen in a hospital mortuary, unable to be laid to rest because the trust refuses to acknowledge that negligence may have played a role, his wife has said.

She accuses the Royal Devon and Exeter of a “lack of morality and basic humanity” and of putting “emotional pressure” on her to accept a death certificate recording death by natural causes, which would allow his body to be released.

Married for more than 40 years, she is now in limbo, unable to hold a funeral, access his bank accounts or wind up his affairs.

A press photographer for decades who photographed Princess Diana’s landmine campaign, Gorbachev and countless wars, Mr Gomer was diagnosed with a suspected blood clot upon admission to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in January.

Despite the diagnosis and suffering from shortness of breath, it is alleged that he was left untreated for hours while the department dealt with a surge of Covid patients.

On two occasions, a nurse was sent to get heparin, a clot-busting drug, but “got sidetracked and never returned,” according to Marthe Gomer.

Mr Gomer collapsed and died of a massive pulmonary embolism while searching the hospital for food, having allegedly been given nothing to eat or drink all day. He was 71 and had recently retired.

Mrs Gomer believes her husband “fell by the wayside” because he did not have Covid and “didn’t make a fuss”.

“I have to live with the fact that Barry, being Barry, sat there like a gentleman waiting his turn,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.

A former journalist on the Daily Express, Mrs Gomer was barred from accompanying her husband into hospital due to NHS Covid rules.

“I can guarantee that had I gone in with Barry, within five minutes of being given a diagnosis of a blood clot he would have been hooked up in the triage ward. That’s where my guilt comes into it.”

The couple spoke on the phone several times throughout January 25, with the last call only a few minutes before Mr Gomer collapsed.

“He was very despondent and low, said he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day.

“He said he was going in search of some food and would call me when he was eventually hooked up on the ward.

“I said 'do you want me to kick off' [with the hospital], but he said 'no, no, don’t worry, I’ll talk to you later'. 

“That was the last time we spoke.”

Mrs Gomer said that doctors at the trust have subsequently conceded to her that had her husband had better treatment, he might have lived.

A death certificate recording “death by natural causes” was issued by the coroner the following morning.

Mrs Gomer has refused to accept it, saying it was issued on the basis of a cursory and incomplete explanation of the death by the hospital.

She is demanding a certificate stating death by natural causes but with an addendum acknowledging the allegations of inadequate treatment, which could then ease the path to a full inquest.

However, this is subject to an investigation by the hospital, which shows no signs of ending, despite a spokesman indicating months ago that it was days away from completion.

She alleges that the trust has placed moral pressure on her to accept the simplified death certificate – including no reference to poor treatment – so that she can remove her husband from the hospital mortuary.

"The RD&E NHS Trust are fully aware of the pressure they are putting me under. And given how long they have strung this out for it has to be deliberate,” she said.

“There's no doubt, there is subtle pressure from the hospital for me to accept that certificate.

“They have said to me that Barry has been in there longer than anyone else, that it's not dignified for him to be there.

“It makes you feel so awful – this is someone I lived with for 40 years.

“I could have Barry home and have a funeral immediately, but to do so I have to accept the death certificate, so it's a stalemate.”

As a press photographer, Mr Gomer travelled the world, covering revolutions, royalty and major sporting events.

He was briefly taken hostage by the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) in Northern Ireland, would routinely follow the Royal Family on skiing trips to Klosters, was present for the Somali refugee crisis and the opening of the first McDonald’s in Moscow in 1990.

One of his final Fleet Street jobs was accompanying Princess Diana on her iconic landmine campaign to Angola shortly before her death.

“He always got the picture,” said Mrs Gomer. “But he got it because he was diplomatic, he wasn’t a pushy person.”

Mrs Gomer now believes her husband’s quiet nature may have cost him his life, and the chance of a long and happy retirement together.

Nine people who tested positive for Covid were admitted to the Royal Devon and Exeter on the day Mr Gomer died, out of 2,931 across the UK.

However, from subsequent discussions with doctors, she has learnt that A&E had dealt with dozens of patients showing signs of possible Covid that day.

“On reflection, I do think that had Barry shown a positive Covid result his treatment would have begun there and then,” she said.

Julie Glynn, from Glynn’s Solicitors, who is representing the widow in a possible action against the hospital, said: “What may have been a delay in treating Barry is being compounded by what appears to be an inordinate delay in concluding the investigation.

“Almost seven months down the line in what should be a straightforward investigation involving 10 hours in A&E.

“This is causing Mrs Gomer a great deal of distress.”

A spokesman for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our senior clinicians involved in the case have met Mrs Gomer twice to discuss Mr Gomer’s care and address her concerns and, at her request, we have also reviewed the care provided to Mr Gomer and have shared these findings in writing on a number of occasions.

“We are continuing to work with Mrs Gomer to respond to her concerns and extend our deepest sympathies for her loss.”

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre