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Funeral directors are being treated like ‘forgotten emergency service’

Funeral directors say they have been treated like the “forgotten emergency service”, with a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) leaving them ill-prepared to safely handle an increase in deaths from coronavirus.

Whilst funeral professionals firmly believe the UK’s NHS workers should be first in line for necessary protection, one of the sector’s leading trade associations is worried that its members’ lives will be put in danger if necessary protective clothing isn’t supplied soon.

The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) also questions the recent downgrading of advice on handling Covid-19 deceased by Public Health England, and is urgently demanding clarity from the Government on the risks to death care workers.

Public Health England (PHE) has said body bags are not required for Covid-19 victims, but SAIF believes the authorities should be taking a much more cautious approach.

PHE’s current advice states: “Where the deceased was known or suspected to have been infected with Covid-19, there is no requirement for a body bag, and viewing, hygienic preparations, post-mortem and embalming are all permitted.”

Prior to March 13, 2020, the guidance recommended that “a body bag should be used for transferring the body and those handling the body at this point should use full PPE” and that embalming is “not recommended unless there are appropriate controls to manage aerosol generating procedures”.

SAIF Chief Executive Terry Tennens said: “Our members are ready to play a major role in caring for people who have died of Covid-19 and their families. But the shortage of PPE means funeral directors are being placed at great risk. We’re worried that the death care system won’t be able to cope if lots of funeral directors have to self-isolate – or worse lose their lives – due to coronavirus.

“Additionally, many in the funeral profession are now speculating that advice around PPE for funeral professionals was deliberately downgraded because the authorities knew that they wouldn’t be able to meet the demand for equipment. If true, this would be a huge scandal.”

Mr Tennens added: “We’re calling on the Government to clarify advice and to speed up the supply of PPE for everyone who needs it. At the moment it feels like funeral directors are the forgotten emergency service but, make no mistake, they are on the frontline in dealing with this crisis and need to be properly protected.”

Last week the Deceased Management Advisory Group, of which SAIF is a member, wrote to the Chief Executive of Public Health England Duncan Selbie calling on the Government agency to provide clear guidance about PPE for funeral directors.  

EXTRA: 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'.

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