Bodies held incorrectly at Yorkshire hospital "showed signs of decomposition"

Bodies held at a Yorkshire hospital showed signs of decomposition after not being stored properly, according to the regulator responsible for human bodies and tissues.

Reports from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), the public body in charge of human tissue and organs, said of one case last year at Leeds General Infirmary: “The inspection team noted a body that had been in storage for 70 days that had not been placed into frozen storage despite being released by the coroner.

“This body showed signs of decomposition and had soiled shrouding.

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Official HTA guidance says that bodies should be moved into frozen storage after 30 days in fridges or before, depending on the condition of the body.

Leeds General Infirmary. (Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe/National World)Leeds General Infirmary. (Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe/National World)
Leeds General Infirmary. (Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe/National World)

“A second body had been in storage for 47 days, had also been the subject of a coroner’s release notification and had not been placed into frozen storage and showed signs of decomposition,” the report says.

Inspectors also found there was no cleaning schedule for the body store at the hospital, and “the door from the visitors area to the staff office is not fitted with a lock…This allows potential access to the main mortuary.”

Dr Magnus Harrison, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Our aim is to provide a safe and dignified service in our mortuaries for people who have died, and unfortunately in this instance, this was not the case.

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“We now have improved systems in place including better communication with our coroner and respective partners to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“Duty of Candour procedures are followed when next of kin information is available.”

The Health Service Journal (HSJ), which first reported on the issue, said it had found at least 10 cases across the country since 2022 where inspectors discovered one or more bodies had started to deteriorate.

A spokeswoman for the HTA said: “The management of the deceased in some licensed mortuaries was identified as a concern through the HTA on-site inspection process.

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“The deceased should be stored at temperatures that preserve their condition and there should be sufficient storage provision and alternatives in place if needed.

“We expect all licensed establishments to be compliant with our standards and ensure the dignity of the deceased is maintained.

“When we find shortfalls we work with establishments to ensure an action plan for improvement is put in place, lessons are learnt and the issue is escalated within the establishment where necessary.”

Elsewhere, at King’s College Hospital in London, inspectors reported “critical” shortfalls in 2022, with mouldy and infested conditions for body storage.

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The report added: “At the time of the inspection there were several adult bodies which had been stored in excess of 30 days in the fridge units.

“Whilst these bodies were subject to regular condition checking, signs of deterioration were present.

“Bodies required movement to freezer storage to prevent further deterioration however the long-term storage unit was at capacity.”

A spokeswoman for King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “Following an inspection report in 2022 by the HTA, we have significantly increased the size of our mortuary provision.”

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