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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

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Undertakers hit out over body moves

WEST Cumbrian funeral directors have publicly spoken out against plans to halt autopsies at the Whitehaven hospital and to transfer the deceased to the Cumberland Infirmary at Carlisle for examinations.

Angry: The funeral directors with Rev John Bannister

They have accused health bosses of “hammering nails into West Cumberland Hospital’s coffin”.

The funeral directors say they are “very upset’’ over the plans by the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust which they say will prove to be “shambolic, distressing and a stab in the back to the community’’.

A spokesman for the funeral directors said: “Apparently, the trust’s board was told we were happy with the plans so long as our money was right. In fact, this is totally untrue. We are very unhappy over these plans and our anger isn’t about money but the great distress which will be caused to relatives.

“We were never consulted about these plans and we believe that they will prove unworkable.’’

Around 40 funeral directors, from across West Cumbria, have joined to express their outrage over the proposals. They also raise concerns about the practicalities of the Cumberland Infirmary dealing with an extra 300 post-mortems; how the work would be prioritised; the transport and storage of bodies; and a guaranteed return of a body on the same day.

“The WCH has a first-rate mortuary which was purpose-built,’’ said the spokesman. “Currently, if someone dies and is brought to the mortuary, the families are able to view by appointment. Under these new plans, if the family wanted to see their loved ones they will have to travel to Carlisle.’’

The trust says the move – which would aim to save £1.75million – would improve the time taken to carry out post-mortems as well as cancer diagnoses as the consultant would spend more time using his skills rather than travelling.

Currently, the examinations are carried out by a histopathologist who travels to Whitehaven on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On July 7, health bosses formally approved the plans to end autopsies at WCH. They also agreed to move the majority of Whitehaven’s microbiology services to Carlisle, although a team will remain at the West Cumberland Hospital for emergencies.

The funeral directors say the trust has failed to give them any information about dealing with busy periods such as winter, holidays and Christmas or indeed a flu pandemic.

They also question the trust’s statement that the move will save money. “We were told that work would have to be done on Carlisle’s mortuary to accommodate more post-mortems which will cost extra money,’’ the spokesman said.

“We believe the current system at the Whitehaven mortuary works. It is not perfect, but it allows us to offer some certainty to families about where their loved ones are and when a funeral can take place. With these new plans we can’t offer the families this certainty.

“As funeral directors, we are all aware that, when someone dies suddenly, it is very difficult and painful for the family to even allow the body to leave the house,’’ the spokesperson explained. “Imagine the distress which is going to occur, therefore, when their loved one has to be taken 40 miles away.’’

The undertakers fear that these new plans, which were deemed ‘operational’ and therefore don’t require a public consultation, are a further erosion of the West Cumberland Hospital’s services.

“Whilst this would not be the final nail in the hospital’s coffin,’’ the spokesman added, “it proves that senior management have made a start.’’

The Rector of Whitehaven, John Bannister, who is head of the area’s Save Our Services group, said: “This, very, unusual step taken by the funeral directors to speak as one about this issue is a clear indication of their professional concerns.

“As spokesman for the ‘Save Our Services’ group I am, frankly, alarmed at this development. Not only does this impact upon post-mortem examinations, which is a sensitive matter for the bereaved, but this decision also reduces the whole of pathology services at WCH.

“ I know that some consultants are concerned and unhappy at the centralisation of microbiology at Carlisle. Following the long and at times tortuous struggle we had to secure a commitment to the continuation of a full range of services at WCH, I now fear that the Trust are breaking faith with the agreements reached.”

And he added: “Sadly, I am still of the opinion that core clinical services are continuing to be moved from WCH to Carlisle. The cost of this will be a threat to the future viability of WCH as an Acute District General Hospital. Perhaps as a community, we need to, once again, make our voices heard on this critical issue.”

Responding to the concerns of the funeral directors, NHS Trust chief executive Carole Heatly said: “I had an hour-long meeting with the funeral directors. I outlined the trust’s reasons for the change to post-mortem examinations and felt the meeting had concluded with a greater understanding over the reasons for this change.

“Our trust has been trying to recruit two histopathologists to our pathology service for the last two years but there is a national shortage and we have not received any applications. Because of this difficulty, it means that a histopathologist has to travel to West Cumberland Hospital to carry out post-mortems on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This clinical time is desperately needed to conduct tests for cancer to allow treatment to start as soon as possible.

“All research shows that the sooner a diagnosis is made and treatment started the greater the chance of survival.”

She said the two histopathologists’ vacancies hadn’t been filled “despite every effort being made to recruit’’ and a technician would be leaving the Carlisle mortuary at the end of August with the trust currently advertising the post.

“We don’t foresee any problems and it will not cause delays,’’ Miss Heatly said. “We carry out a very small number of post-mortems on behalf of the coroner and these are requested by the coroner. On these occasions, there will be dignified transfer to the Cumberland Infirmary where the post-mortem will be carried out and the body returned the same day to the West Cumberland Hospital.

“This transfer will take place in a vehicle that is specially designed for this to ensure the utmost dignity for the deceased and their families. This means families will receive the results of the post-mortems much sooner than if they were conducted at West Cumberland Hospital.”

Responding to the funeral director’s concerns about the costs of the new plans, she said: “It is much cheaper for the NHS to lease vehicles rather than buy them. The travel expenses that we currently pay to the histopathology consultants to travel to Whitehaven will almost cover the cost of this vehicle lease and its fuel.

“The mortuary at Carlisle does not need to be renovated, however there have been discussions at increasing the number of autopsy tables from two to three. This would be advantageous operationally but is not necessary for the centralisation of autopsy services to take place.

“The reasons for these changes, as I have tried to explain, are not financially driven,’’ she added, “they are to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment and also to give distressed relatives quicker results on the cause of death of their loved ones and help them to arrange funerals sooner.’’

Have your say

The savings were identified at the board meeting as unreal.No true costings have been identified, which concerns me.It only identifies the true picture of services being centralised at Carlisle.I am not surprised Lord Darzi has resigned;his report was dependant on patient care being the forefront of the health service; not the whims of one or two consultants and an expanding managerial health service.
YOUR HEALTH! YOUR SAY!remember the logo?

Posted by Christine Wharrier on 15 July 2009 at 18:55

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