Deceased people have been held in mortuaries for more than a year whilst relatives struggle to pay for funerals, research by ITV News shows.
In a grim new sign of what’s been called 'funeral poverty', undertakers and hospitals say delays in burials and cremations are increasingly being caused by financial strain on the bereaved.
Member Louise Milligan was featured on ITV News and our Chair Ishbel Gall made this statement on behalf of the AAPT:
The Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology (AAPT) is the professional body that represents Anatomical Pathology Technologists (APTs) across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
"Increasingly, over a number of years, capacity and storage issues have been high on members’ lists of concern. The national shortage of pathologists which contributes to the increasing length of time that deceased are spending in mortuaries has been well documented but of growing concern are the number of deceased who are waiting in hospital mortuaries for their funerals to be arranged.
In England Hospitals have statutory obligations to arrange a “pauper’s funeral” for patients who die in hospital if no-one else is prepared to make the arrangements because:
a) relatives cannot be traced, or
b) relatives cannot afford to pay for the funeral and do not qualify for Social Fund Funeral Payments, or
c) relatives are unwilling to take responsibility for the funeral arrangements.
This does mean that everyone will get a funeral but any shortfall in the estate may mean, even for a simple funeral, a hefty bill for the NHS who is liable. Often this means that funerals are not arranged until a lengthy process of investigation is carried out to ensure nobody is going to make alternative arrangements. The deceased have to be kept in refrigerated accommodation by the NHS until arrangements are made putting pressure on an already pressured service.
An increasing number of families are signing up for “Simple” or “Direct” Funerals which usually means cremation in a basic coffin with no service time allocated and no choice as to the arrangements. Ashes are usually scattered at the crematorium unless the family can arrange collection. The USP for this service is that families can arrange their own celebration of the person’s life to suit their budget.
This however in reality means that the deceased remains in the hospital mortuary until the day before, or even the day of, the funeral; again this means pressure is being put on the hospital facilities.
Families are increasingly shopping around the funeral sector and trying to provide the best they can for their loved one, more families are waiting to secure a payment from DWP before they start to make arrangements and this in itself can take several weeks or months depending on circumstances. Unfortunately this payment which used to cover the cost of a basic funeral now only covers about a third of the cost.
Areas of the country, already noted for their low life expectancy, are amongst some of the areas worst hit ; business continuity plans brought in to provide extra body storage during the winter months are now commonly being used all year round to try and cope with demand.
This is definitely an area of concern, and will remain on our agenda until there is some resolution to what is effectively a major contributor to the body storage crisis across the UK"