A High Wycombe man died when emergency surgery to repair his broken spine was delayed after hospital doctors wrongly feared he had Covid-19 because he had a cough, an inquest has heard.

Worried that 68-year-old Eric Vaughan might have the coronavirus, doctors put off operating on him because extra hospital staff needed to be Covid-trained and given proper personal protection equipment (PPE) - which they did not have.

However, a coroner heard that after Mr Vaughan died, test results showed that he had not had Covid-19 after all.

The patient died at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, which hit the headlines when a member of staff who warned of the dangers of not having hand sanitiser and proper PPE, died from coronavirus. Two porters at the same hospital also died amid the pandemic, leading to a walk-out by the other porters in the row over PPE.

Medics treating Mr Vaughan were awaiting the results of a coronavirus test which had been carried out when he first arrived in hospital, after suffering a serious injury to his spine in a fall downstairs.

He died on March 24, the day when Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, an anaesthetist who started volunteering at the John Radcliffe Hospital spoke out online and said: "We don’t have the appropriate equipment to practise with. Training 12k staff takes time. We could potentially infect huge numbers."

Doctors in Oxford had complained about a lack of PPE in hospitals across the region.

The John Radcliffe Hospital had gone into an early lockdown as it restricted visiting hours and brought in student volunteers to help manage the rising caseloads.

It was a facility which was later rocked by the death of one its staff - administrative assistant 56-year-old Peter Gough - who had complained about a lack of hand sanitiser in the workplace. He died after contracting coronavirus.

Porters at the hospital also went on strike after two of their colleagues died amid the pandemic and complaints of a lack of proper PPE.

Ambulance crews had been called to Mr Vaughan's home address in High Wycombe on March 23, after friends discovered him crying for help and unable to get up, although he could not remember what had happened, an inquest on Tuesday was told.

Mr Vaughan was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford where he was treated by Dr Hitesh Dabasia, a consultant spinal surgeon, among others responsible for his care, a statement read at the inquest revealed.

Dr Dabasia said: "Mr Vaughan was being treated as a suspected Covid case because of a history of a cough. From my examination, Mr Vaughan had clinical findings consistent with an incomplete spinal cord injury.

"I spoke with the on-call anaesthetist about Mr Vaughan's feared Covid status. Additional staff would be needed before Mr Vaughan could be operated on as there was not a sufficient number of Covid staff."

Buckinghamshire Coroner's Court sitting in Beaconsfield heard how medics had delayed Mr Vaughan's surgery overnight due to his undetermined Covid status.

The next morning - March 24 - Mr Vaughan was on maximum oxygen therapy when Dr Dabasia visited him on the ward.

"He informed me he would like to proceed with surgery," Dr Dabasia told the inquest.

By lunchtime, a team meeting was being held at the hospital and it was agreed the teams would need to undergo PPE training because the results of Mr Vaughan's Covid test had not yet come back.

Dr Dabasia said: "Mr Vaughan's oxygen saturations dropped suddenly and he was deemed by the anaesthetic team to be rapidly deteriorating. A decision was taken not to proceed with surgery and to transfer Mr Vaughan back to the ward for palliation."

Mr Vaughan had died shortly afterwards, with the cause of death given to the inquest as acute respiratory distress syndrome, caused by an unstable cervical spine fracture, requiring immobilisation and flat bed rest prior to surgery. The underlying causes were given as hypertension, atrial fibrillation, chronic alcohol intake and a high BMI, the coroner said.

"It was only after providing the above cause of death that we were informed of a negative Covid-19 swab result", Dr Dabasia added.

Crispin Butler, the senior coroner for Buckinghamshire, told the inquest: "We have a trigger event at home, which appears to be a fall down a flight of stairs.

"We have heard the process of decision making for surgery or not and the point when surgery was initiated, there was a rapid deterioration. He was no longer suitable for surgery at that point.

"The clinical decision making here and the suspicions about Covid-19 and need for PPE consideration, would be quite appropriate at the time."

Mr Vaughan died as a result of an accident, the coroner ruled.