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Roles and responsibilities

The interpretation of the requirements under the Public Health Act by public services is variable. A paper ( Annex C ) providing clarification was agreed and supported by SOLACE , NHS Board Chief Executives, Police Scotland and Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). This provides a common understanding to assess current service provision and develop appropriate services, including meeting proposed demand in the future.

In essence, Local Authorities are responsible for managing deaths occurring in the communities and Health Boards are responsible for the deaths in hospitals ( see Annex C).

The COPFS may contract with LA or Health Boards for its requirements - storage, post mortem examinations, identification of deceased, etc.

Core elements of a mortuary service and facility in the written policy of organisations must include:

Environment and facilities - every effort must be made to conduct discussions and/or counselling in private, sympathetic and comfortable surroundings, away from interruptions. The location, accessibility, size and environment of the rooms used by mortuary services can have an impact on the quality of service users' experience.

Governance and management structures - there must be agreement and clarity about responsibilities of different individuals and organisations e.g. the name of individuals who lead the service and/or the facilities must be accessible/available to all who require it.

Staff awareness - staff to be aware of the governance and management structures e.g. the person responsible for the facilities if it is different from those responsible for the provision of the service for a particular facility.

Staff training and development - it is essential that staff involved in caring for people who are bereaved are well informed, trained and supported so they feel confident about the care and support they give. [2] They must have adequate training and opportunities to develop their knowledge, understanding, self-awareness and skills, particularly in response to any feedback. The attitude, knowledge and skill with which staff and volunteers interact with people who have been bereaved is pivotal to achieving a good quality service.

Health and safety - consideration must be given to the health and safety both of the bereaved and of staff, to ensure that the health and safety is not compromised by issues relating to the cause of death ( e.g. infectious disease or similar), or by the circumstances and surroundings.

Review and audit - reviews and audits of mortuary services must be undertaken regularly, both internally and with external peer review. The reports and any actions taken to address gaps must be presented to the Boards of the organisations, via their governance processes and published.

Recommendations:

  • Health Boards, Local Authorities, Police Scotland Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) and Universities must provide clarity to their staff and the public about the components of the mortuary service and death investigation as appropriate, including who has the responsibility for which aspect of the service.
  • The names and contact details of the individuals responsible for the mortuary facilities and for mortuary services must be known and accessible including establishing a single point of contact for any complaints.

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