Scotland’s chief medical officer has pleaded with the country’s bereaved not to delay holding their loved ones’ funerals.
Dr Gregor Smith addressed the nation alongside First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman on Monday as part of the daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Smith said he understood the burden and importance of care for those bereaved, particularly by the epidemic, but added the only way to avoid a backlog in Scotland’s mortuaries is for funerals to go ahead as normal.
He stressed social distancing measures would not be changed in the near future, so there is no reason for families to delay funerals in the hope of a return to normality.
More than 57,000 deaths occur in Scotland on an average year, with this figure almost certain to increase greatly in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Scottish Government could not say how many additional deaths would cause morgues to become “over-capacity” or indeed that they had any data proving people were delaying burying their loved ones.
Plans for extra mortuary space have already been put in place in Perth and Kinross, with a temporary morgue being constructed.
A large walk-in freezer unit has been installed at the former Travis Perkins site at the Inveralmond industrial estate.
Perth and Kinross Council said it had worked with neighbouring councils, the local health board and police to set up the temporary service, but hoped it would not have to use it.
In Spain, a popular Madrid ice rink has been transformed into a morgue to address a lack of capacity in the capital’s funeral services.
Dr Smith said: “We cannot provide figures (as to when capacity in mortuaries in Scotland might be breached) at the moment.
“It is important to note the ongoing dialogue between the Scottish Government and partnerships including funeral providers, to make sure everyone is continually monitoring the situation and seeing exactly how they are able to respond both to providing funerals for people in a timely way and also to make sure that rather grim task of making sure we have adequate mortuary capacity is dealt with as well.”
Ease the strain on funeral providers
Dr Smith added: “Unfortunately death is a subject we continually have to turn to when discussing Covid-19 and I want to again acknowledge the terrible burden some families are experiencing just know, as they deal with that loss.
“We recognise this is a very difficult time for those who have lost someone not only from Covid-19 but from other conditions.
“As a GP it is only too real to me the support that some people needed during that grieving process and I would ask everybody to bear that in mind and try to offer their own way of support, recognising the need for social distancing but to be able to call upon people in other ways to try to offer them support at this difficult time.
“In the cultures we see across Scotland, the process of saying goodbye plays a very important part in that grieving process.
“However, at this time it’s very important that people do not delay funerals of their loved ones.
“It’s important that people are able to grieve the passing of a loved one, but delaying a funeral, in anticipation of social distancing measures being lifted, could increase strain on funeral and mortuary services responding to coronavirus.
“We respectfully ask families do not delay the funerals of loved ones as a result of adherence to the NHS advice on social distancing and self-isolation, or because of waiting for these emergency measures to be lifted.
“Please let me be clear, the measures to help protect us all during this pandemic are going to remain in place for a significant period of time.
“This will include the restrictions on who can attend a funeral service assessment request only directed to those who have sadly lost loved ones to Covid-19.”
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