Funeral Mix-Up fears Over Body Checks at Hospitals

January 20, 2010

imageSTAFF at major Queensland hospital have been releasing dead bodies without thorough ID checks, raising concerns of the wrong bodies being sent to funeral homes for burial, an investigation has found.

The internal audit by Queensland Health, obtained by The Sunday Mail under Right to Information laws, found staff at Cairns Base Hospital mortuary were releasing bodies without unzipping the body bag to check the identity of the body inside matched the bag nametag.

Hospital staff have now been ordered to work within view of CCTV cameras to eliminate potential mistakes.

“On arrival in the mortuary, the identification is not re-checked to ensure continuity of identification,” the report says. “Body bags are not opened by mortuary staff on arrival or before release.


“Identification bands or tags attached to the bodies are not usually checked by mortuary staff, hospital staff and funeral directors prior to release.

“This may present a risk that errors could arise in body release and recommend that identity of the deceased be re-checked with the funeral director at the time of release.”

The audit also found that autopsies were being interrupted by the unannounced arrival of funeral directors, who expected mortuary staff to “interrupt whatever task” they were doing.

A letter from the state’s peak funeral industry body, the Queensland Funeral Directors’ Association, gives one example of a member being greeted by a blood-soaked mortuary worker, who had come direct from the operating room.

“He walked over to the register, tapped on it with his bloody, gloved hand and stated: ‘I’m busy, you know where to sign’,” the letter to Queensland Health claims.

Documents also reveal a body was released from Cairns mortuary to a funeral home in April last year with no formal record of the body having left the hospital after a nurse in the ward authorised the hand-over, against hospital procedure.

Internal auditors recommended restricting collection hours to stop the frequent interruption of autopsies.

Restricted collection times have been adopted on a trial basis.

Several recommendations have state-wide implications, including a review of body bag standards.

Other recommendations included checking bodies for sharps and fluid leakage before their release.

The Cairns audit was launched after complaints from the state’s peak funeral industry body about Queensland Health and Queensland Pathology mortuary procedures.

It investigated a number of claims about poor practices at Cairns, including:

? Hospital trays not being cleaned properly.

? Body fluids not being removed and open wounds not stitched.

? Decomposed bodies not being separated due to lack of storage space.

Auditors found most of the allegations could not be substantiated because of a lack of information from the funeral industry.

The audit was completed in May last year but Queensland Health refused to publicly release the findings.

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