Mortality not NHS’s fault

The latest medical scandal is that dead bodies are left on hospital wards for ‘hours’ before they are taken to the hospital morgue (so says the Herald in Glasgow, the Scotsman in Edinburgh, the Telegraph, the Independent and BBC News) . I discern a distinct lack of a story here.

Dying happens, and I am glad that, as reported, staff on the wards in the hospital thought it appropriate that relatives, friends and chaplains were able to spend some time with the deceased person before the body was removed. That seems humane. While private single rooms are nice, old style Nightingale wards are what the NHS has stocks of. The issue seems to have been that a visiting relative of another (live) patient complained that, on a large ward, and despite the curtains being drawn around the bed, the dead man’s face was visible, uncovered, on a pillow.

Death is sometimes tragic, and often sad, but we do ourselves no favours by attempting to remove ourselves from all witness of it. What, really, do we think happens to our body when we die? The hospitals have apologised, which I am disappointed by; they should have said that caring well for dying people, and caring well for the recently bereaved is immensely important and they are proud of what they have done. There is nothing to apologise for. The inevitability of death is hardly the NHS’s fault.

Margaret McCartney’s Blog

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A forum on healthcare policy and professional issues, by Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist Margaret McCartney.

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