‘Traumatised’ hospital staff having to improvise due to lack of body bags, union claims

Hospital porters are having to transport corpses on sheets due to an alleged shortage of body bags in Surrey, a union has said.

Staff are said to be “distressed and anxious” at the situation at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, where dead bodies are said to be wrapped in sheets and left awaiting collection due to the hospital mortuary being “overflowing”, according to the GMB union.

The trust – which reported one of the first-known UK deaths due to coronavirus nearly a month ago – 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.

The union said porters are also concerned about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and are left with “a flimsy plastic apron, disposable gloves and a flimsy mask”.

This came as the social care charity Community Integrated Care said supplies of protective equipment for care workers across the country was “woefully inadequate”, while staff in hospitals have repeatedly complained about a lack of supplies or inadequate provision.

GMB spokeswoman Helen O’Connor (pictured) 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 frontline doing the type of work that would distress anyone and increasingly dealing with death.

“They know that operating without body bags and flimsy PPE puts them and their families at increased risk of contracting this deadly virus.

“We call on Epsom and St Helier trust to take urgent measures to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of these key workers during this crisis.”

The union said there were 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.

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.”

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