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£16m Mortuary Planned as Hospital Facilities Run Out of Space

Published on: 20 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 22 Dec, 2021

A £16 million mortuary could be constructed opposite the Royal Surrey County Hospital

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A £16 million mortuary could be built in Surrey as the space to store bodies has become overwhelmed.

There is not enough storage during winter months in mortuaries at Royal Surrey, St Peter’s and East Surrey hospitals, councillors heard earlier this week.

The new mortuary could include innovative digital imaging for non-invasive post-mortems and may be built on the University of Surrey’s Manor Park campus at Guildford, just to the south of the Royal Surrey County Hospital.

Cllr Kevin Deanus, Surrey’s cabinet member for community protection, said: “This is about dignity for the deceased but also respect for the families and how we treat them.

“When you look at the benefits this will bring and the risks we currently have, I think really the options are quite limited.”

Surrey County Council’s communities, environment and highways select committee fully supported the plans on Wednesday (December 15), and a fully costed business case is to go to cabinet in February 2022.

During the first wave of the pandemic temporary mortuaries had to be set up, at the University of Surrey’s vet school in Guildford, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service Reigate headquarters and Headley Court near Leatherhead.

Some families had funerals delayed as they waited six weeks for a post-mortem, which should be carried out within a week of death.

A national shortage of pathologists who can perform autopsies is also contributing to delays.

Even before covid the number of dead outstripped capacity in three out of five years.

Viewing rooms had to be closed to put up temporary body storage units when the system was under pressure.

There is high-level support among the council, coroner and NHS hospital trusts to introduce digital post-mortems, which involve a CT scanner and are non-invasive.

Imaging is not widely used in the UK for coroner’s cases but research indicates it could be used in 75 to 90 per cent of cases.

The council is in talks about a possible partnership with the University of Surrey, which wants to develop research capabilities in digital imaging and is in the process of applying to become a medical teaching school.

Steve Owen-Hughes

Steve Owen-Hughes, chair of Surrey’s local resilience forum, said: “For many years there has been a problem of body storage capacity, and shortage of pathologists nationally.

“Hopefully if we go into these great partnerships we can also help address this national shortage by helping to be part of a medical faculty based in Surrey, which would be without doubt cutting-edge and world-leading and nationally will be something we could all be very proud of.”

While waiting for the new Surrey mortuary, an interim facility is to be built at the Surrey County Council Highways depot in Bagshot to ensure capacity over the next five years.

It has planning approval and is due to be ready early next year.

The committee heard a new facility would have good security provision, which would avoid necrophiliac attacks as happened in two Kent morgues without CCTV.

David Fuller, who worked as a hospital electrician, was this week sentenced to 12 years in prison for abusing more than 100 corpses over 12 years, including a nine-year-old girl and a 100-year-old woman.

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