NHS nurse died from rare heavy metal poisoning in mystery death

A post mortem found that an NHS nurse died from rare heavy metal poisoning in September 2020, investigators into the mystery death revealing they have yet to identify the source.   
Alex Duncan had sky-high levels of cadmium in his body when he tragically died from multiple organ failure as a result of the poisoning. He worked as a nurse at the Dunfermline’s Queen Margaret Hospital and was found to have 270 units of cadmium in his blood, a substance that is used in the making of batteries
The family are now calling for a fresh inquiry to establish how he could’ve come into contact with the material. A normal level of cadmium in the system would be around three units according to medics.
His parents, Chris and Ian Duncan, have told how they waited 14 months for results of a probe by Public Health Scotland, NHS Fife and the Crown Office only to be left frustrated. They believe that the likely place was at his work due to his reduced movements during the pandemic.
Chris, 66, a retired dentist, said: “He fought hard. He didn’t want to die. He was fit. But Alex’s symptoms were unique, they just couldn’t pin it down.
“I think it was the Thursday before he died when the hospital heard back from a professor in London who asked if they had checked for heavy metals.
“But it was too late by then. When I saw him that day, I knew something had changed because he was getting agitated and angry which wasn’t like him.
Alex turned a worrying shade of yellow soon after falling ill in August 2020.  Chris added: “They realised it was being caused by a form of septicaemia from bacteria which sparked a mad panic to change all his medical lines in case that’s where it was coming from.
“The consultant spoke to Ian and I and asked would we consider a post mortem on medical grounds because they were so perplexed.
“We said absolutely because he would’ve hated for anyone else to have to deal with what he dealt with.”
Alex and his partner Freya tried to get married while he was fighting for life in hospital but he sadly became too ill
Dad Ian, 71, said: “We were all being investigated. The house, the water, the soil, the cats, all his electronics were being investigated.
“But everything came back fine with no trace of cadmium on anything. So we assumed the same thing would be happening at his place of work.
“Because we were in lockdown, the only places Alex was going was home, at work or out with Freya somewhere.
“We waited 14 months to get a report that doesn’t specify anything. And when we asked PHS what tests they carried out at the hospital, we were told ‘oh it was assessed’.
“During a meeting with them, they were beating around the bush and eventually told us that nothing and nobody had been tested.
“There were no questions answered. They said they couldn’t talk about the specifics of Alex’s case because the report is anonymised.
“But they want to use his case to do a report on the effects of cadmium. They say the conclusion was that they don’t think Alex’s case had anything to do with cadmium. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Alex parents asked their GP to test them for cadmium levels and both returned healthy results.
Cadmium is a natural metal and has a number of industrial uses and can be found in batteries, alloys, solar cells and as a pigment in paint. Public Health Scotland confirmed they are working with NHS Fife, who are leading the inquiry.
The health board have said they are unable to comment due to the ongoing investigation.
To have died from poisoning by a rare heavy metal is very unusual, and certainly from a nurse working in an NHS hospital. The level of cadmium in his system would suggest more than just exposure to the substance.


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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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