The Big Body Storage Question!

September 13, 2018   //   No Comments

SAIF thanks Member Paul Allcock for his monthly blog:

Over the past 18 months there have been many questions and indeed criticisms surrounding the quality of the service provided by funeral directors.  The latest being a feature in the Daily Mail amongst others which was as the result of a report by Dignity with the headline ‘Funeral Homes where bodies are stacked in fridges.”  If this is true, it begs the question firstly, why is this happening?  And if it is happening, is it the fault or failure of the funeral director? Or are there mitigating circumstances?

I have no intention here of defending inappropriate care or storage of the deceased, but there are definitely external factors outside of the control of the funeral director which have a huge knock on effect.  When I started in the funeral service, some 35 years ago, virtually every funeral was carried out within a week, with many within a few days.  We move the clock on to 2018 and the timescale is now between 2 and 4 weeks depending on the death rate at any given time of the year.  Couple that with the increased population and it is fairly obvious that there is going to be a storage problem without individual companies making substantial changes to their facilities.

Many have of course made the relevant improvements, many more are in the process of doing so while others have had to think outside the box, literally.  Many funeral directors premises simply haven’t got the room to increase on the site where they may have been for many years, and subsequently have perhaps had no choice but to look at options for storage in another location.  This has indeed been the case for many of the larger groups such as Dignity and the Co-op having central hubs for a number of funeral branches.  This in itself has been the subject of criticism in the past.

So why does it take so much longer these days to complete funeral arrangements?  It would appear that the reasons have changed over those 35 years.  Initially delays would have been due to the increased popularity for cremation rather than burial, and the demands on the crematoria facilities causing a backlog due to their lack of availability.  Over time there have been many new crematoria being built and this is still ongoing today which is definitely shortening the time scale for making a booking.  In some cases there are now even longer delays for burial availability than cremation, particularly with some local authority run cemeteries.

More relevant factors to the current delays are the time it takes to get all the necessary paperwork completed.  I have heard of cases of doctors not completing cremation forms 4 and 5 within 2 or 3 weeks and frequently not within 10 days.  If this is the case how can a funeral director confidently arrange a funeral within 2 weeks of the death if there is no guarantee that the documentation will be completed in time?  This, coupled with cases handled by the coroners often taking similar lengths of time and Registrars often unable to offer an appointment within the recommended 5 days, all adds to the equation in causing huge headaches for funeral directors.

We hear of hospital mortuaries being full to overflowing.  Some now even make a charge for storage after a set period of time once documents are complete.  It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate that if the deceased have to be kept for a longer period, and the death rate is higher, then there is a need to be able to store considerably more than has been the case in the past.

So what is the answer?  I for one hope that the introduction of the new Medical Examiners from April next year will speed up the documentation process.  There is only ever going to be a finite amount of space created by funeral directors and unless the timescales improve dramatically over the coming years, this is going to be an ever increasing problem.  It’s all very well being critical of funeral directors for not having appropriate facilities, but there is a definite need for the associated services to improve and increase the speed of the service they provide.  Otherwise it will continue to be a long uphill and unfair battle for funeral directors to keep up with the storage demands set upon them by external sources.

Paul Allcock