Post-mortems at Lister Hospital take up to five weeks

Lister Hospital in Stevenage. Picture: East and North Herts NHS Trust.

Lister Hospital in Stevenage. Picture: East and North Herts NHS Trust. - Credit: Archant

A funeral company said it is "appalled" that Lister Hospital has stripped back its mortuary service during "the busiest time of year".

Lister's mortuary has recently begun a refurbishment that is not due to be completed until June . While work is ongoing at Lister "the bodies of people who die in the community will be cared for by neighbouring trusts", despite the number of autopsy requests increasing each month, from 45 in September 2021 to 78 in December 2021

An employee who works in the funeral industry said they are "absolutely staggered at how this decision was made" and have "never seen anything like this in the industry".

Some families are waiting up to five weeks for post-mortems at Lister to be completed; according to the NHS website, a post-mortem usually takes within two to three working days of someone's death. 

"This means that by the time the deceased comes back into our care, the chances of the family being able to view the body are zilch," the worker, who asked not to be named, said.

Fingerprint jewellery is also not an option at that stage, and you can't book a funeral until the coroner has released the deceased.

"It's just not fair on the families. I've got this family that is in mourning. The person died before Christmas and still haven't had a post-mortem. They've been told they are 30th in the queue," they said.

We asked Lister why they closed its mortuary, where post-mortems are being conducted instead and whether five weeks would impact the accuracy of a post-mortem.

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A spokesperson for East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs Lister Hospital, said: "The mortuary at Lister Hospital is not closed and we continue to provide mortuary services for those patients who pass away at Lister.

"For a short period of time post mortems of those who die at Lister Hospital will also take place at an alternative site. 

“We have seen an increase in post mortem requests, and we know that some families have experienced delays exacerbated by a number of factors – including staff shortages across the region in all of the services involved when someone dies.

"We realise that this can be upsetting for families, and everyone is working hard to carry out post mortems as soon as possible so that bereaved families can say goodbye.” 

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We understand that long waiting times for a post-mortem can be upsetting for grieving families, and we are doing everything in our power to speed up the process.

"We are working with other hospitals in Hertfordshire, and in neighbouring counties, to make arrangements for post-mortem examinations while the mortuary at Lister Hospital is closed.”