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Coronavirus: Allegations of body bag shortage at Surrey hospital trust

3 minute read
Coronavirus: Allegations of body bag shortage at Surrey hospital trust

Published by the Eagle Radio News Team at 10:38am 7th April 2020. (Updated at 10:46am 7th April 2020)

Bodies are being wrapped in sheets due to an alleged shortage of body bags in Surrey, a union has claimed.

NHS staff are said to be "distressed and anxious" at the situation at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, as the coronavirus pandemic causes a high number of fatalities.

The GMB Union said dead bodies are being transported on sheets and left awaiting collection due to the "overflowing" hospital mortuary.

The trust denied there was a shortage and said it was following Public Health England (PHE) guidance that body bags could be used for other practical reasons.

Public Health England figures up to Sunday say that 81 people have died at Epsom and St Helier, with COVID-19 related symptoms, but the number is less than several other London hospital trusts.

Porters at the Surrey and Sutton hospitals are also said to be concerned about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and are left with "a flimsy plastic apron, disposable gloves and a flimsy mask".

It comes as social care charity Community Integrated Care said supplies of protective equipment for care workers across the country was "woefully inadequate".

Meanwhile, staff in hospitals have repeatedly complained about a lack of supplies or inadequate provision.

GMB union spokeswoman Helen O'Connor said:

"We are extremely concerned about the psychological and physical wellbeing of our hospital members who are traumatised and struggling to cope with the impact of this pandemic.

"They are on the front line doing the type of work that would distress anyone and increasingly dealing with death."

Ms O'Connor added that operating without body bags puts NHS workers and their families "at increased risk of contracting the deadly virus".

The union is calling on Epsom and St Helier Trust to "take urgent measures" to safeguard the health and safety of their workers during the crisis.

There are similar reports of shortages in other parts of the country, including an alleged lack of clinical waste bags in at least one hospital in the Midlands, the union said.

Daniel Elkeles, chief executive of Epsom and St Helier, said:

"We can confirm that we do not have a shortage of body bags and we have room in our mortuaries to support deceased patients.

"We continue to follow PHE guidance on providing protective equipment and make this available to our staff.

"We have stocks available to support our porters and other staff and will continue to work with all of our staff to ensure they feel safe as they care for our patients."