“How people die remains in the memory of those who live on.” Dame Cicely Saunders founder of the modern hospice movement 1918 – 2005
It is often said that the only certainty in life is death, but equally we can be sure that all of us will be touched by the loss at some point in our lives of a loved one. There are an average 230,000 – 250,000 people each year in Scotland who experience bereavement.
As a Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pathology and Director of the Centre for Forensic and Legal Medicine at the University of Dundee, I became aware of and lent my support to a campaign to improve the mortuary services in Scotland back in 2016. I have recently been Chair of the development group that has just published new draft standards for mortuary services in Scotland which are now open for consultation.
Why do we need standards?
It was due to the campaigning of the Whyte Family Trust that these standards are being developed. Maryan Whyte took action following the tragic death of her husband Frank, in a sailing accident in the Moray Firth in May 2016. Maryan and the family’s experience of the mortuary facilities, systems and practices was traumatic, they felt severely let down at a time when services should have been supporting them.
Maryan and the family’s experience of the mortuary facilities, systems and practices was traumatic, they felt severely let down at a time when services should have been supporting them.
Maryan did not want anyone else to go through a similar experience. Therefore, along with a group of committed people, started to campaign, not only to improve facilities and the whole mortuary procedures in Moray but throughout Scotland. With the support of her local MSP, Richard Lochhead, she took her campaign to the Scottish Government which subsequently convened a Mortuary Review Group which recommended in February 2018 that standards for mortuary services were developed by Healthcare Improvement Scotland.
The aim of standards is to define the model of care to be delivered by the mortuary services throughout the country, along with expected levels of service to support organisations to demonstrate that they are delivering a person-centred, safe and effective service.
Maryan and I have been working with colleagues from NHSScotland and local authority mortuary services, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), Police Scotland, universities, third sector organisations and Healthcare Improvement Scotland to develop these draft standards.
We want the public to be confident that a mortuary ensures dignity and respect for the deceased, comfort and support for those that have been bereaved and be a suitable working environment for professionals involved in care of the deceased and the investigation of death.
Although not everyone who dies will go to a mortuary, the standards will affect a large number of people. Almost half of all deaths in Scotland occur in hospital or other healthcare institutions, furthermore in 2017-18 there were 838 hospital post-mortem examinations and, of the 10,865 deaths that were reported to COPFS, 5,845 were instructed for post-mortem examination.
We want the public to be confident that a mortuary ensures dignity and respect for the deceased, comfort and support for those that have been bereaved and be a suitable working environment for professionals involved in care of the deceased and the investigation of death. The draft standards reflect these broad themes covering:
- Leadership and governance
- Dignified and respectful care of the deceased
- Supporting the needs of people who are bereaved
- Education, training and support for staff.
Can you help?
We must be sure that the standards reflect the views of the public as well as those that work in and with mortuary services, so please let us have your opinions and views. You can do this by completing the on-line survey.
Read the draft standards:
Healthcare Improvement Scotland website
Professor Stewart Fleming is Professor Emeritus of Cellular and Molecular Pathology at University of Dundee and Chair of the Standards Development Group.