Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology

Warner announces guidelines for mortuary staff

'Care and Respect in Death' guidance is published

Lord Warner today announced new good practice guidance for NHS mortuary staff to ensure that they deal with the bodies of people who die in hospital, and their friends and family, in a safe, secure and sensitive way.

In 2004, the Department of Health announced its intention to publish good practice guidance for staff working in NHS mortuaries. In 2005 Lord Warner re-iterated that commitment in Modernising Pathology: Building a Service Responsive to Patients.

Care and Respect in Death brings together existing good practice from hospital mortuaries in one document in order to spread it widely across the NHS.

Lord Warner said: "Staff working in mortuaries in NHS hospitals have an important and challenging role providing an efficient, safe and secure service, while at the same time treating bereaved families with respect and sensitivity. If things go wrong in a hospital mortuary, the impact on bereaved families can be devastating. Providing a high quality mortuary service which respects the dignity of deceased patients and their families is a key part of effective support for bereaved families.

"The Government's aim is to put patients at the heart of the modern NHS. Providing a service that cares for and respects the dead is an important part of that vision. I welcome the publication of this advice and the eight key principles of good practice, which provides guidance on how they can be put into practice."

The guidance sets out eight key principles of good practice to develop a mortuary service at a local level that is:

  • responsive to individual needs;
  • respectful;
  • safe and secure;
  • confidential;
  • committed to improvement;
  • valuing staff;
  • valuing good communication; and
  • fit for purpose.

The document includes examples of good practice from around the country. One is an initiative by Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, who are working in cooperation with the local Muslim community and local authority to provide a suitable facility for families to use for preparation of their loved ones' bodies according to their religion, such as ritual washing.

Another example is North Glasgow University Hospital NHS Trust, who have a 'same name' procedure to warn the staff if two of the deceased at their mortuary have similar or identical names in order to prevent mistaken identity.

Yunus Dudhwala, Multifaith Coordinator at the College of Healthcare Chaplains, said:

"I welcome the new guidance 'Care and Respect in Death' and very much support the eight principles the publication sets out. Patient care does not finish when the patient dies. The quality of after death care we offer in the NHS will directly impact on the grieving process of families and friends.

"Families of the patient will expect appropriate, effective, sensitive and efficient care not only for themselves but also for their deceased loved one. The patient's body must still be treated in a dignified manner that respects their cultural, religious and personal beliefs. Mortuary staff are key members in delivering this care to patients and families and I hope this guidance helps ensure all patients and families are treated with respect, dignity, sensitivity and above all as 'individuals' at a sad and difficult time."

The guidance has been agreed with a wide range of organisations and representatives that include faith communities, bereavement organisations, funeral directors and minority ethnic groups.

'Care and Respect in Death' Good Practice Guidance for NHS Mortuary Staff

Thursday 10th August 2006