A temporary mortuary is set to be built at a Chelmsford park and ride site to deal with excess deaths from coronavirus.
Essex County Council (ECC) has contracted Kenyon International Emergency Services Ltd to provide a service to manage excess deaths at the Chelmer Park and Ride facility in Essex Regiment Way.
The temporary mortuary, which ECC has allocated £10 million to run, will serve Essex, Thurrock and Southend for the management of excess deaths as a result of Covid-19.
It is unclear how high the death toll could be in Essex over the coming months, but decisions about the scale of the provision required for Essex, Thurrock and Southend, which have agreed to fund a proportionate part of the costs, are delegated to the executive director for corporate and customer services at ECC.
Pending government determination of any additional emergency funding, £10 million has been agreed to be drawn down from the general balance to cover the anticipated net cost to the council.
It is expected that the site may be required for a period of up to six months from April 2020 and the costs will all be incurred during that time frame, although it may be necessary to extend this period should Covid-19 continue to infect people within Essex for longer than expected.
A statement in a cabinet report said: “The global outbreak of coronavirus is affecting the UK. The number of cases has grown significantly since early March.
“Urgent preparation, to ensure an effective response to Covid-19, is taking place across the council and with partners.
“Central government has asked local authorities to prepare for the excess deaths that will occur as a result of the pandemic.
“Measures and resources need urgently to be put in place to provide capacity for managing excess deaths with respect and dignity and in accordance with appropriate public health requirements.
“Plans for managing excess deaths are and will continue to be informed by latest forecasts and guidance from the government’s Covid-19 Response Team and the existing capacity within the county’s death management services (mortuaries, funeral directors, crematoria, burial grounds, registration services and bereavement services).”
ECC already has an agreement in place with Kenyon International Emergency Services to provide emergency services in the event of mass disaster recovery incidents.
Kenyon will manage the centralised facility including the entry and exit to the site, site security, sourcing of all materials for the site, as well as arranging the building of the temporary mortuary.
The impact of this decision is that the park and ride site will remain closed, potentially for many months.
When the lockdown ends it is anticipated that traffic levels will increase, but the site may remain unavailable for parking if it is still needed for the additional body storage capacity.
The council has admitted this may have the impact of increasing congestion in Chelmsford and at the Broomfield Hospital site, both of which are served by buses from the park and ride.
A statement added: “The council is expecting extremely challenging conditions as Covid-19 takes effect.
“The coroners service and therefore excess death management needs to be able to take all necessary action to fulfil its duties during this period and reassure providers of funeral services, bereaved families, and partners in the NHS of its capacity to do so.
“Without action, there is a great risk of insufficient mortuary capacity given the scale of the coronavirus crisis facing us.”
The statement added that the council will lack the necessary expertise to manage the escalation of deaths due to the pandemic, if it does not act.
“The funding element for this, how much ECC will receive and when we will receive it has not been confirmed with government,” said the statement.
“Given the urgency of the need to support mortuaries, the NHS, and bereaved families, as well as respecting the deceased the council cannot wait for an announcement for funding from central government.
“In the interim the costs will be covered by the council’s general balance with an agreement of understanding with partners.”