ERI staff suggested Mortonhall communal cremations

Mortonhall cremated foetuses placed in individual coffins inside an adult-sized coffin. Picture: Neil Hanna
Mortonhall cremated foetuses placed in individual coffins inside an adult-sized coffin. Picture: Neil Hanna
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HOSPITAL bosses ordered the communal cremation of some dead babies in a bid to keep costs down, a witness told the inquiry into the Mortonhall ashes scandal.

Former crematorium manager George Bell said senior Edinburgh Royal Infirmary staff mooted the idea because they wanted to reduce costs.

The practice which was later introduced and still continues, sees several foetuses cremated in adult-sized coffins.

Today, one of the Mortonhall parents branded communal cremations “inhumane” and called for them to be stopped.

Dame Elish Angiolini’s report into the scandal said communal cremations began in 2000 after a relaxation in the code of practice drawn up by the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities.

She recorded Mr Bell recalling that a mortuary technician from the Sick Kids hospital had previously brought foetal remains to the crematorium in little coffins. He told the inquiry: “The FBCA code stated that there should only be one body cremated at one time.”

He said a bereavement counsellor at the ERI approached him on the instructions of the chief midwife and other senior managers about how to reduce costs, as the hospital was being charged per baby for cremation. 
The report also set out evidence from Andy Glancy, a senior pathology technologist at the ERI, who said: “Where parents did not request a ceremony, foetuses under the legal gestation for viability [28 weeks and later 24 weeks], we would send these foetuses to Mortonhall in separate small coffins. The hospital [Simpson’s] was charged per cremation. I think it was £80 per ­cremation.

“Later, the Simpson’s maternity hospital agreed that all foetuses which were assigned for cremation at Mortonhall – and where a ceremony was not requested by the parent – could be collectively placed in their individual coffin into an adult sized coffin, be cremated as one cremation.”

Willie Reid, chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action ­Committee, said: “Communal cremations are something that has to be stopped. It’s ­inhumane.”

Dame Elish recommended the cremation of non-viable foetuses should be regulated by law and any new financial obligations of crematoria ­recognised.

City council chief executive Sue Bruce said: “I will be working with the Scottish Government and other organisations to address these concerns.”

Dame Elish’s long-awaited 600-page report into the ashes scandal was released last week.

Fiona Mitchell, general manager of women’s and children’s services at NHS Lothian, said: “We are taking urgent action to implement the recommendations. However, given the time that has passed, we are not in a position to comment on specifics contained in the report.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com