Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology


Mortuary Contingency Planning

What would happen to your department if on Saturday evening you and your colleagues won the lottery syndicate?

What would happen to your department if on Saturday evening you and your colleagues won the lottery syndicate?

How many of you would even bother to show Monday morning? I jest, every one of you dedicated APTs would turn up and allow the management to figure out what to do next while you are busy choosing your villas and yachts.

Seriously what would happen to your department if no APTs showed up for work be it through sickness (that old chestnut) or extreme weather conditions?

What would happen to the service if heaven forbid the place flooded or worse suffered a fire. We all know it can happen, equipment failures, loss of premises, missing staff members. Life is not certain and mini catastrophes happen.

The question is what are you going to do about it? You may already have an idea what to do if the brain saw packs up on you mid sentence. Get out the hand saw (heavy sigh) but that’s what you do. These days we have to have written instructions for everything. Standard operating procedures on how to wash your hands! Purrleease.

Now for the fun bit. You need a written plan. It will make you look clever and impress your line manager. It will after all be your line manager managing if no APTs show. Divide it into manageable chunks rather like the En Bloc Method of Ghon.

Equipment, premises, personnel. Good place to begin. Then further break it down. Equipment: post mortem tables, body hoists, brain saw. Premises- offices, relatives room, viewing room, fridge lobby, post-mortem room. Personnel- no personnel, none qualified to work by themselves, and limited personnel.

Easy, now draw up a list with the following titles:

• Failure  
• Options available  
• Who initiates   
• Who needs to know 
• Who reverts.

Under failure list what has gone wrong. For example: no staff attend for duty. Under options available list what are you going to do about it. E.g. notify the Coroner’s Office that post-mortems are very likely going to be delayed, can you move them to another mortuary and if so who will remove them? Consider recalling staff from annual leave (fat chance), employ a locum. List what needs to be done immediately, who is going to release the deceased? Who knows how to release the correct deceased? and so it can develop but try and keep it simple. Nobody wants to be wading through reams of paper with heightened stress levels.

Next cross reference, where you deem it necessary to a more detailed reference document. This will contain the contact details where applicable and any detailed information that will prove useful. This is the meat on the bones bit.

Who initiates? Well it would make sense if somebody in charge of the department did the deed but anyone within the APT scope could provided they have been contingency plan trained. Is your line manager one of the Cellular Pathology lot or are you one of those lucky Band 8 set? Consider your options, all that matters is someone somewhere is able to make sense of the situation in the absence of an APT.

Who needs to know? Well probably quite a lot of people. Bereavement office, Coroners office, switchboard, oh and who is providing the on call service now? Porters, undertakers and so the list can develop. A budget holder is necessary to authorise the employment of a locum.

Who reverts? Who can turn it all back to normal when the situation has been resolved? Most likely a Senior APT or the Mortuary Manager. Now is a good time for debriefing. Did the plan work? Was it a useful toolkit, or a waste of paper? Were all the contact details contained within the reference document up to date?

Besides a training schedule you should hold mock exercises, maybe one a month. While away boring Friday afternoons by asking your staff what they would do if the fridges all packed up right now. Get them to ring the contract engineer. This is an opportunity to check the plan is fireproof, and amend it if it is not. Include an amendment sheet and initial any changes and make sure everyone knows what the current state of affairs is.

This is an opportunity for a real time incident, a snapshot of what would happen this minute.

The likely hood of requiring the contingencies are low, however failing to have them and the impact to your business could be severe.

Where will all this hard work get you? Well I reckon organised, proficient, steadfast, resolute and ever so slightly smug!

Tina Mackay FAAPT

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