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Latest advice for funeral professionals – SAIF and NAFD updates

Funeral associations are receiving regular updates from Government with guidelines for the current pandemic. We will look to include the latest here whenever there is new information. The latest update includes new Public Health England guidelines for handling COVID-19 deceased, push to speed up social fund funeral payment decisions, PPE availability, the new DMAG website, Northern Ireland funeral director virus testing and media coverage of the current pandemic ...

31 March

New Government guidance on handling Covid-19 deceased persons

The Government today issued new advice on procedures relating to the handling of the bodies of people who have died of coronavirus. SAIF's first reading of the guidance summarises as follows:

1    Body bags for COVID-19 deaths are not essential.
2    Staff continue to remove and dress the deceased using PPE for infection control.
3    A cloth should be placed over the mouth, nose and eyes to prevent aerosols during removals.
4    Viewings by mourners are permitted keeping a two-metre distance between mourners and staff, and the deceased should not be touched.
5    Mourners showing symptoms of coronavirus (a cough or a fever) or who are self-isolating should not view, visit your office or attend a funeral service.

SAIF will continue reviewing the information and give further input tomorrow. The advice is certainly much more comprehensive. Earlier Public Health England guidelines can be found in the members' area of the SAIF website.

SAIF meets Department for Work and Pensions

SAIF Chief Executive Terry Tennens and Government Liaison Officer Paul Allcock held a conference call with senior management at the DWP today to discuss options for speeding up Social Fund Funeral Payment eligibility decisions. It was a positive discussion and we will update members in due course. Separately, a question mark remains over when the increase in the fund to £1,000 will be implemented (Note for Scottish SAIF members, the Funeral Expenses Payment is increased to £1,000 on 1st April 2020).

Webinar - effectively managing your funeral business amid Covid-19

A reminder that National SAIF President Mark Porteous will be leading a webinar at 2pm tomorrow to help you successfully steer your funeral business through the uncertain and fast-changing situation we're all facing, thanks to coronavirus. Click here to register.

The session will describe how Mark's family business is managing and adapting to the abrupt changes affecting the funeral profession.

PPE availability survey

The NAFD has contacted members today (31 March) with a short survey so that a meeting later this week can update Government on the situation regarding PPE availability.
The issue was also aired on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. NAFD Chief Executive Jon Levett, President David Barrington and Past President Alison Crake were all interviewed and the Today programme's political correspondent Ross Hawkins also pressed Public Health England for a response on the release date for guidance, being told it would be released 'imminently'.

30 March

Deceased Management Advisory Group (DMAG) website launches

The newly launched DMAG website is a central hub for all those involved with funerals, burials and cremations, and has been supported by SAIF. Advice given by the representative organisations, Central Government and the devolved administrations is contained on the site.

URGENT: Kent SAIF members please be aware

You will have received an email from Jo Parker, SAIF Vice President, and Mark Laming, NAFD Kent Representative, who are working jointly with Local Government’s Kent Resilience Forum (Excess Deaths Management Group).   

Please answer the questions and report back to them weekly as indicated in the email.  The information you provide will help with the management of deaths in Kent over the coming months. In addition, please contact Jo as your Kent Representative ( if your supply of PPE becomes depleted and prevents your business from operating or if you have any other concerns.

Northern Ireland funeral directors to be tested for coronavirus

SAIF understands funeral directors in Northern Ireland are to be tested for Covid-19 as part of efforts by the authorities to test health workers for the virus. Funeral directors are being asked to list everyone in their organisation for the tests and SAIF is seeking to clarify relevant NHS/local authority points of contact and will share these in due course.

VICE News looking for Covid-19 funeral case studies

VICE News is making a film about Covid-19 in the UK and would like to speak to anyone who has experienced bereavement as a result of the virus, and is now going through the process of trying to arrange a funeral for their loved one, or has already had the funeral. The film will go out on television in the United States and will be on YouTube and the VICE News website, which will be accessible in the UK.   

If you think you might be able to assist with this, please contact SAIF's public relations advisor Mark Binnersley in the first instance, who will provide support.

27 March

Interim guidance on changes to cremations

The Coronavirus Act 2020 has now commenced. Here is the interim guidance on the provisions in the Act in respect of cremations in England and Wales:
a. The requirement to complete the confirmatory medical certificate (form Cremation 5) is suspended. Cremations should be authorised on the basis of form Cremation 4 only.

b. Form Cremation 4 remains unchanged and a PDF version continues to be available on the website. It can be submitted electronically and an electronic signature includes being sent from the secure email account of the person completing the form Cremation 4.

c. The requirement for form Cremation 4 to be completed by the attending medical practitioner is suspended. Any medical practitioner can now complete form Cremation 4, even if they did not attend the deceased during their last illness or after death, if the following conditions are fulfilled:
   i. The medical practitioner who did attend the deceased is unable to sign the form Cremation 4 or it is impractical for them to do so and,
   ii. A medical practitioner has seen the deceased (including audiovisual/video consultation) within 28 days before death, or has viewed the body in person after death.

d. Examination of the body is not required for completion of form Cremation 4 if the deceased was seen by a medical practitioner (including audiovisual/video consultation) in the 28 days before death.

e. When a medical practitioner who did not attend the deceased completes form Cremation 4, the following applies:
   i. Question 5. ‘Usual medical practitioner’. Where the certifying doctor did not themselves attend the patient either during their illness or after death, the certifying doctor should provide the GMC number and name of the medical practitioner who did attend at Question 9. This should also include the date when the deceased was seen and a report of the record made by the attending doctor.
   ii. Question 6. ‘Not applicable’ is acceptable.
   iii. Question 7. ‘Not applicable’ is acceptable.
   iv. Question 8. ‘Not applicable’ is acceptable. As at (iii) above, if the form Cremation 4 is being completed on the basis of another medical practitioner having seen the deceased after death, the date, time and nature of their examination should be recorded at Question 9.

f. Any completed cremation forms 5 that you may receive will not form part of the application and there will be no duty to retain them.

g. There will be no need for a medical referee to re-authorise any cremation that they have already authorised under the arrangements which applied prior to implementation of the 2020 Act.

For changes affecting death registration in Scotland click here and Northern Ireland here.
BIE position on embalming Covid-19 deceased

The British Institute of Embalmers has issued guidance for embalming the bodies of people who have died of Covid-19. The Institute advises members to follow the policies of their respective companies (some of which may have opted not to embalm coronavirus cases) and conduct a full risk assessment. Other advice includes spraying the body bags and clothes of Covid-19 deceased with disinfectant and disinfecting all surfaces once the procedure has been completed.
The BIE's advice considers how long Covid-19 might be able to persist on deceased persons and affected surfaces after death and points out that some coronaviruses have remained viable on inanimate objects for up to five days in certain circumstances. We recommend all SAIF members read this advice.

In view of this, SAIF continues to recommend the deceased is collected in a body bag and staff wear PPE. Should embalming occur of a Covid-19 deceased, then viewing can take place with restricted numbers at each visit (the risk of relatives who may have been in contact with the deceased is real and vulnerable people should refrain from visiting – consider using FaceTime/Zoom to do a virtual visit).

SAIF’s position is to protect your staff, however, please read the documentation and determine your company's position. SAIF's National President will continue to follow this advice although, in light of the BIE's paper, embalming can take place following strict guidelines.    
Deceased Management Advisory Group presses Public Health England for advice on handling deceased

The seven organisations of the Deceased Management Advisory Group met yesterday (26 March) with the Cabinet Office and were promised updated Public Health England guidance by the end of the day. It has not arrived, so we have sent this letter to Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England.

Cemeteries and crematoria closed to public

Cemeteries and crematoria are closed to the public during the emergency period, except for burials and cremations. This means families are unable to visit graves or gardens of remembrance. Further information can be found in this Statutory Instrument

West Midlands emergency mortuary

SAIF understands that authorities in the West Midlands have identified Birmingham Airport as a site for a regional emergency mortuary to be used in a coronavirus deaths worst-case scenario. Deceased are to be transported from the region's hospitals to this site by military personnel. SAIF is currently trying to clarify what will happen with regard to funerals and the role our members might play in returning the deceased to various parts of the region.

Advice from South Wales Central Area Senior Coroner to funeral directors

Graeme Hughes, the senior coroner for South Wales Central Area, has issued guidance to funeral directors on the collection of Covid-19 deceased in the instance of community deaths. Guidance may vary regionally, however, there is some useful information on PPE in the document which we advise all members to read.

Staff ID
Following on from the 26 March bulletin we include a good example of an ID card issued by SAIF member and former National President Gemma O'Driscoll. It's well worth considering providing such a card to your staff to reduce the risk of them being prevented by the police from going about their duties during this period of strict social distancing rules. 

SAIF writes to Chief Coroner Judge Mark Lucraft QC
SAIF has written to the Chief Coroner to affirm independent funeral directors' commitment to playing a significant role in the funeral process for Covid-19 victims, in respect of the provision of mortuary space, logistical support and personnel. Alongside this, the association has sought clarification around how the process will work and the way in which the funeral profession will be engaged at local level. 

Separately, the Chief Coroner has issued guidance to coroners across England and Wales. This can be viewed here and of particular note is the following section:
"Coroners should not issue their own local Guidance to the police, ambulance service, funeral directors or any other organisation in respect of PPE or infection control for attendance at community deaths etc; a collective multi-agency response, involving the senior coroner and following national guidance will be required to ensure that a consistent process for dealing with the detailed logistics of all deaths, but particularly community deaths during the COVID-19 emergency can be achieved."

Provision of PPE
SAIF is acutely aware of the shortage of PPE for the funeral profession. The association has been working in partnership with the Deceased Management Advisory Group and the Government to secure additional supplies and hope to be able to provide an update on this soon. "Rest assured we are working around the clock to resolve this important matter," they say.

Handling Covid-19 deceased
In a conference call with the Cabinet Office, SAIF enquired about further advice for funeral directors on handling deceased with Covid-19, specifically in relation to removal, storage and viewings. It was indicated that guidance was imminent. However, ahead of that SAIF strongly advises that Covid-19 cases are placed in body bags, straight to the coffin, with staff wearing PPE. It is recommended that viewings are not permitted.

Social distancing in funeral vehicles
In order to observe the recommended two-metre distance rule, has your business considered providing personnel with an opportunity to travel to removals and other tasks in separate vehicles? If this is not possible, then it is sensible to wear face masks for the duration of the journey.

Funeral directors as key workers
To assist the authorities in policing the current social distancing rules, SAIF recommends that members photocopy and if possible laminate their SAIF inspection certificate to display in vehicles. You may want to provide staff with an ID badge too, in the event that they are stopped by the police on the way to work.

Separately, SAIF is disappointed to see that the Scottish Government appears to have refused to intervene in respect of inconsistencies relating to the recognition of funeral directors as key workers. Advice issued by the Scottish Government states that it is a decision for local authorities. Scottish SAIF made representations to the Scottish Government to uniformly recognise funeral directors as an essential category two key worker. SAIF will continue to press for this to be changed and urge members in Scotland to contact the offide with any issues arising out of this arrangement.

Coronavirus Act 2020
The coronavirus bill has received Royal Assent and is on the statute books – meaning that the Coronavirus Act 2020 is now law of the land. This has a number of implications for the funeral profession. These mainly centre on measures to speed up the death certification process, including the suspension of the referral of Medical Certificates of Cause of Death in Scotland and the enabling of electronic transferral of registration documents across the UK. The Act also includes provisions to allow local authorities to direct the funeral process in extreme circumstances. Details of the bill can be found here and the Act here.
The General Register Office has issued a circular explaining some of the provisions around registration.

Additionally in Scotland, thanks to a commencement order, the Act should now mean that registrations can resume after a period of delay and we have received reports that Scottish registrars are already accepting over-the-phone registrations.

Relaxation of drivers' hours rules
Coffin manufacturers and other suppliers to the funeral profession will be interested to know that the Government has temporarily relaxed driver's hours regulations, in order to allow essential goods to be delivered on time. Further details can be found here.

24 March

SAIF took part in a Cabinet Office briefing along with NAFD colleagues and other members of the funeral sector, to get the latest Government guidelines on managing funerals safely during the current pandemic.

Chief Executive, Terry Tennens, asked a number of pressing questions on members' behalf:

The number of people who can attend a funeral
The Government does not wish to specify attendance numbers, however, the priority is to protect the vulnerable. Anyone who has coronavirus symptoms or is in self-isolation should absolutely not go to a funeral. And whilst the elderly are not prohibited from attending funeral services, funeral directors and crematoria are urged to provide the facilities for live-streaming and to start making arrangements for a memorial at a later date.
Further advice in relation to who should attend funerals has been issued in a joint statement by the ICCM and FBCA.

SAIF recommends funeral directors liaise closely with your local crematoria and cemetery managers to work in partnership with them.

Discrepancies in key worker status in different jurisdictions of the UK
President of Scottish SAIF James Carcary and its liaison officer Joe Murren have engaged with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell and Policy Manager Cheryl Paris, to ensure funeral staff are recognised as key workers across all parts of Scotland as soon as possible. Updates are expected in due course on this matter.

Covid-19 victims – viewings
SAIF’s guidance for Covid-19 victims is to avoid viewings unless there are exceptional cultural circumstances. The authorities state that there is a small risk of infection from contact with a person who has died from Covid-19, however, the bigger potential risk to you and your staff is from their relatives, who should be assumed are carriers of the disease.    

For viewings of people who have not died of Covid-19, we advise you to admit only immediate family and try to limit viewings to two people at a time. For elderly relatives seeking to view a deceased person, please assume that your staff could be virus carriers and take every step to protect the client from infection. Ultimately, it is best for you to weigh up the risks and determine the appropriate course of action.  

PPE supplies for the funeral profession
The Government is attempting to map the need for PPE resources ahead of ensuring adequate supplies to all parts of the UK. Additionally, Public Health England is due to publish a paper this week which is expected to cover the risks associated with handling deceased Covid-19 victims.
Again SAIF advises members to err on the side of caution and take all necessary steps to protect yourself and your staff. To help inform the Government in terms of your PPE resource requirements, SAIF will be contacting you in the coming days with a survey. We urge you to participate when this arrives in your inbox.

Coronavirus bill - what funeral directors may be directed to do locally
The bill has now passed through Parliament. MPs have made it clear that they do not wish to impose any particular means of disposal upon the funeral profession and bereaved people; the client’s preference regarding burial or cremation is to be honoured.

Social fund funeral payment eligibility and speeding up the decision
The Cabinet Office is looking into demands to speed up the eligibility decision process and has raised this with the Department for Work and Pensions, which we are informed is currently looking at possible solutions. The Government is also looking at options for additional support as there could be families with multiple deceased relatives and with members who are now without employment. Expect updates in due course.

Webcasting and Facebook Live
We cannot emphasise enough the importance of giving families, particularly the elderly, the ability to watch funerals live on a computer or phone. If more people are able to do this, the risk of spreading Covid-19 will be further diminished. Please discuss webcasting as an option with your clients and work with crematoria and burial ground owners to make this happen.

SAIF Business Centre
National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF)

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