Council to open temporary mortuary in face of rising COVID deaths

A new temporary mortuary is to open as deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise.

Essex County Council (ECC) is spending £700,000 to run a temporary mortuary for the storage of an additional 330 bodies at Greenwood Funeral Directors in Chelmsford.

The decision comes amidst a rapidly increasing death rate. Prior to Christmas, there was 50 per cent capacity in the system but this has reduced to 34 per cent this week and capacity is expected to continue to reduce over the coming weeks.

There are parts of Essex which are approaching capacity already.

Permanent mortuary capacity at hospitals in Essex amounts to 737 – this capacity was enhanced to 1,211 after extra space was created.

A statement to ECC cabinet said: “However, despite the additional storage capacity placed at hospitals, mortuary capacity in some circumstances is almost full and others increasing rapidly.

“Funeral directors are currently supporting hospital mortuaries by providing additional storage, but further storage now needs to be added to support the death management system.

“Prior to Christmas, there was 50 per cent capacity in the system but this has reduced to 34 per cent this week and capacity is expected to continue to reduce over the coming weeks.

“In addition, certain parts of Essex are now reporting that they are approaching capacity.

“The operation of the facility will enable ECC to react to any further spike in excess deaths and manage existing demand.”

It adds: “It is possible that the facility may need to remain in place for a prolonged period which will be fully dependent on the level of excess deaths caused by Covid-19 and the ability of the whole system to cope with any increased requirement.

“A freezer option is being looked at to include as part of this operation which would allow storage of coronial cases beyond 30 days.”

The decision to create additional capacity reflects the speed of transmission currently  – given that ECC said there were no plans to increase capacity just less than two weeks.

The trajectory is worse compared to the lockdown in March when a temporary mortuary was set up at Chelmer Park and Ride in Chelmsford to deal with excess deaths from coronavirus.

The temporary mortuary, which ECC allocated £10 million to run, was to serve Essex, Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea for the management of excess deaths as a result of COVID-19.

It was closed down in the summer without ever having been used.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter