Wigan morgue crisis

Brian Halliwell of R Banks and Son
Brian Halliwell of R Banks and Son

A BACKLOG of bodies is building up in Wigan’s mortuary causing delays for funerals.

Grieving families are having to wait up to a week for the bodies of loved ones to be released following changes to the way deaths are registered.

Local funeral directors say Wigan’s Registra Service was capable of recording an average of 10 deaths per day, but that has now been halved because of the extra paperwork the new system has brought with it.

Council bosses admit the new procedures, which they stress are nothing to do with council cuts, have lengthened appointments but deny there is a backlog.

The effects of the new system are well illustrated by the experience of Linda Hardcastle and her family.

She says attempting to make last month’s funeral arrangements for her 91-year-old mum, Margaret Cusick, became a nightmare because of “totally unacceptable delays” in having her body released from the mortuary. There were no problems when she laid her father Jack to rest, under the old system, three years ago.

Now two leading Wigan undertakers are calling for a return to the former process to save relatives further heartbreak and stress. Brian Halliwell, boss of the long established independent funeral directors R. Banks and Son, said: “They think that they are helping families of the bereaved - but this situation is hindering them.”

While Alan Jones, from the Ashton based Alan Jones Funeral Services, said: “Families are most vulnerable at this time and they have every right to get frustrated and upset with the current situation.”

The law states that people must be registered within four days of their death - and the service is now using the maximum timescale allowed by law.

Mr Halliwell said: “I wouldn’t like my mother or father left in the mortuary for a week because there are delays in registering the death.

“What is happening is that if a family have a bereavement over the weekend, they go to the hospital to pick up the death certificate then they have got to register.

“Six months or so ago they would have received an appointment for the day after and everything would have been cleared within 24 hours.

“Now with the new system, if a person dies over the weekend, instead of registering on the Monday morning, it is now usually the following Friday.

“That is because under the new rules they are offering to cancel things like the passports and driving licences which used to be done by the family themselves.

“If a body is left in the hospital for four days other deaths are occurring in the hospital and I am told that they are getting over-run with bodies and they have been having to transfer bodies over to Leigh mortuary because Wigan is totally full.

“Families are complaining to us saying they want their loved ones out of the hospital and back in our Chapel of Rest but we are having to apologise and say that we can’t do that until the death has been officially registered.

“If there is a particularly busy weekend with a higher number of deaths you are now getting a situation where some aren’t registered until the following weekend.”

Mr Jones said that the situation was a “growing concern” for Wigan’s undertakers.

He said: “Now, where the families would check with the DWP or other bodies to inform them of the death of a loved one, the registrar service is doing it themselves under the new system and that means that they no longer have the time to record as many deaths as they did before because each one is taking twice as long to complete.

“I have spoken to one of the registras and he confirmed that it is causing them problems.

“Some deaths on a busy weekend are now probably not able to be registered until the following Thursday or Friday so it is obvious where the delays are coming from.”

Wigan Council’s Head of Legal and Risk, John Mitchell, said : “The registrars’ service has recently undergone a number of changes, including the introduction of a new call-handling and diary system.

“These changes are not part of the council cuts but have been designed to improve the service to the public. In addition the Government has also introduced the new ‘Tell Us Once’ service which enables the registrar to inform other agencies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, of a death in a single process. Previously the next of kin would have to inform these agencies separately.

“Although this has inevitably lengthened the appointments, the service has been very well-received by the public.

“We can report that there are still sufficient appointments available to enable all deaths to be registered within the statutory five-day time limit, notwithstanding the introduction of these new systems.

“The number of deaths registered has not slipped as suggested, for example, last week we registered 64 deaths and the week before that 52.”