A North London hospital is in dire need of increasing its mortuary capacity to tackle a growing need for more storage. More deaths being investigated by the coroner and increases in the length of stay have meant Northwick Park Hospital is running out of space – and the country’s growing population size and age mean the problem is only expected to get worse.
Brent Council runs Brent Mortuary, which is located on the site of Northwick Park Hospital. It provides storage, post-mortem facilities and technical staff covering three of the five boroughs within the HM Coroner of North London’s jurisdiction – Brent, Harrow and Barnet.
The council has tabled a plan for a £2.63m to increase the capacity of the mortuary by 80 as it battles to meet its legal requirements for adequate refrigerated and frozen storage for the deceased, as well as having enough to allow for peak periods such as during yearly seasonal pressures.
In 2021, the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) – an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care – undertook an audit of Northwick Park Hospital and reported that the facility ‘no longer meets the HTA requirement for sufficient storage’.
This is due to multiple factors, including annual increases in the number of deaths being investigated by the coroner and the rise in average length of stay for each deceased, as well as the- area’s steadily growing population size and age.
However, it is expected that the cost-of-living crisis – as having enough money for funeral costs has become harder – will make the situation worse. The service is also seeing a steady increase in the number of obesity related deaths, which the council states ‘can often require additional storage space’.
If nothing was done, Brent Council claims the mortuary would not be able to tackle the current issues, on top of the extra demand in the future, as it is ‘at capacity’. Alongside Harrow and Barnet Council’s, the local authority could also be fined for not meeting the HTA requirements.
To ensure that the mortuary functions in the meantime, an “agreed temporary contingency plan” is in place but its limited scope means it ‘cannot be considered a long-term solution’. A 2021/22 feasibility study determined that the best solution would be to expand the capacity by 80 places using an unused cellar room next to the existing mortuary.
The three borough’s would be responsible for their own financial contributions, based on their population sizes. This means Barnet would pay £1,031,818 (39 per cent), Harrow would pay £692,561 (26 per cent), and Brent would pay £900,621 (34 per cent) – which would come out of Strategic Community Infrastructure Levy (SCIL) money as it has no capital funding available.
In documents submitted to the Cabinet, the Member for Environment, Infrastructure and Climate Action, Cllr Krupa Sheth, stated: “By recognising and meeting these standards, the council demonstrates it has a commitment to ensuring the continued security and dignity in the ongoing care of the deceased through the coronal process, as part of the wider death management process.”
She added: “The proposed expansion will ensure that the mortuary remains legally able to continue to deliver its services to residents and support the Coroners Service and Metropolitan Police.” The project will be presented to the Cabinet at next week’s meeting (January 15).