Funeral inspector tells of leaking coffin and body mix-up

Natalie McKail has made significant recommendations
Natalie McKail has made significant recommendations
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A body mix-up and damaged and leaking coffins have been dealt with by Scotland’s new inspector of funeral directors, her first annual report reveals.

Natalie McKail said she had also made some “significant recommendations” for improvements following inspections of some of the country’s 700 funeral parlours.

McKail is due to recommend to ministers by the end of the year how the profession should be regulated, potentially through a licensing system.

She was appointed last year following a review of crematorium practices ordered after the baby ashes scandals in Kirkcaldy and Glasgow.

Bereaved parents were denied access to their infants’ remains.

McKail said her inspections to date had shown some funeral directors “developing areas of excellence”, but they had also uncovered “departures from common or good practice in relation to care of the deceased, record keeping, training and experience of staff, identity checks, authorisation and permissions”.

Cases investigated have included the wrong body being collected for a cremation because a funeral director was not told there were two deceased with the same name in an NHS mortuary.

McKail criticised NHS staff for being “somewhat less proactive [than the funeral director] in reassuring me the improvement actions would be followed through”. The inspector didn’t identify the case, but Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and Co-op Funeralcare apologised in December after a dead man was almost cremated by the wrong family.

In another case, McKail said a damaged coffin had been used for a cremation “with a marker pen name plate”. The funeral director agreed it had been unacceptable.

McKail said she was also investigating a coffin which had leaked bodily fluids, contaminating a crematorium catafalque (platform), which damaged a coffin at another funeral.

Paul Stevenson, president of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors Scotland, which represents three-quarters of firms, said: “It is reassuring that where the inspector has highlighted a need for improvements at funeral parlours, the response from those who have fallen short has been cooperative and broadly positive.”