GRIEVING West Dorset families will face having to travel to the other side of Dorset to say a final farewell to loved ones in the latest round of cost-cutting initiatives.
Dorset County Council, which pays Dorset County Hospital for mortuary services, has terminated its contract in order to establish a single mortuary in Boscombe for the entire county.
There are fears the move could prevent those who live to the far west of the county being able to visit their loved ones for a final time because of the distance.
It has provoked outrage amongst funeral directors, who say it will have a ‘distressing’ impact on grieving families.
Julian Hussey of the Wessex Funeral Directors Association, which represents independent funeral businesses in Dorset, said: “We feel Dorset County Council has not given any consideration to the welfare of the bereaved, who may find themselves having to travel vast distances to identify or visit their loved ones.”
He added the mortuary and bereavement services team at DCH, which carries out 500 post-mortems a year, has a ‘good record of compassion and efficiency’.
Mr Hussey, a Bridport funeral director, added: “We feel that the move to Boscombe will not achieve more efficiency, quite the opposite in fact, and savings, if any, will be negligible.”
A hospital source said he was concerned about the announcement. He said: “The mortuary service at DCH gives a lot to the community.
“It really helps some people to grieve, especially if the death was sudden.
“The staff do reconstruction work so the loved ones can see them for one last time. Will that service be available at the new location? It really raises a lot of worrying questions.”
It is understood that those who die on wards at DCH will remain in the mortuary there, but those who are brought in from the community in circumstances where post-mortems need to be carried out to find out the cause of death, will be taken to Boscombe. Three jobs are believed to be at risk, although it is not known if the posts will be transferred to the new location.
Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Dorset County Council, Jonathan Mair said: “As part of merging the East and West Dorset Coroners’ areas into one for the whole county, we are working in partnership with Bournemouth Borough Council and the Borough of Poole to use one purpose-built mortuary owned and run by Bournemouth Borough Council. We have therefore notified Dorset County Hospital that we will be terminating our existing mortuary services contract with them.”
Mr Mair said the merger made ‘financial sense’ and was unlikely to affect the location of inquests.
Former chairman of the Dorset Police Federation Clive Chamberlain said there could be a ‘knock on’ effect on police services.
He said: “If a police officer deals with someone who is killed in a road traffic accident for example, in order to provide continuity of evidence for the coroner, he has to be able to say that the body that left the scene is the same one that arrived at the mortuary.
“This will mean officers having to travel huge distances.”
West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin said: “As my own father died recently in Dorset County Hospital, I am very aware of the excellent mortuary services that they have been providing – and I shall want to be sure that any new arrangements will deliver the same, excellent level of service.”
A spokesperson for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have been given notice by Dorset County Council that they are terminating their agreement with us for the provision of mortuary services.
“The council has made it clear that their decision to terminate the arrangement does not reflect any dissatisfaction with the quality of service provided by Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. It is simply that there is a need to work more effectively and to achieve savings by working with the other local authorities with a shared responsibility for the coroner’s service in Dorset.
“We are currently looking at what this change will