Make-shift morgues built during the darkest days of the Covid pandemic are being reopened amid a sharp rise in excess deaths.
Temporary mortuaries at council gritting yards and near nature reserves are back in action once again to deal with the uptick.
Temporary morgues were originally set up in beauty spots and airports to cope with the unusually high numbers of Covid deaths at the start of 2020.
Make-shift morgues used during the height of the Covid pandemic have been reopened to deal with the sharp rise in excess deaths over Christmas. One site, the Leys in Wollaston (pictured), Northamptonshire, was reopened at the turn of the year as part of the county’s ‘death management activation plan’
The temporary mortuary is owned and managed by the local councils and was used to support Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals during the height of the pandemic
Another temporary morgue, a 15 minute drive from Salisbury, Wiltshire, is based at a gritting yard. The refrigeration unit, which has 24/7 security, is being used to store the dead from Salisbury District Hospital. The High Post Salt Store (pictured) is based next to a business park with a gym, car parts business and art supply company
The number of people who died in the two weeks to December 30 was 20 per cent higher than the five-year average, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
During the height of the pandemic, more than 7,000 were killed by the virus alone in the final fortnight of the year.
Hospitals, some of which only have room to store hundreds, quickly ran out of space.
Some sites built to give extra capacity were reopened again last winter, even though Covid posed a much smaller threat then.
Festive bank holidays meant there were fewer funerals on top of the annual increase, meaning more storage was needed.
Health bosses say similar reasons explain why the sites are being reopened this winter, with Covid killing just over 100 people a day in Britain over the festive period.
One site, the Leys in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, was reopened at the turn of the year as part of the county’s ‘death management activation plan’.
The temporary mortuary is owned and managed by the local councils and was used to support Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals during the height of the pandemic.
It is down the road from Summer Leys, a scenic nature reserve that is a haven for breeding and wading birds.
Sadie Nightingale, head of coroners and West and North Northamptonshire registration service, said the 1,100-body capacity site was opened to treat the dead with ‘compassion and respect’.
She told the Northamptonshire Telegraph: ‘There’s been a four-day bank holiday followed by a three-day bank holiday. Opening times for funeral directors have been tricky.
‘Winter is a time when respiratory illnesses increase, and this year it has been predicted that there will be a higher number of illnesses circulating.
‘As such, The Leys reopened to support the county’s health system. This enables the management of capacity and care for the deceased within the North and West Northamptonshire areas with compassion and respect.’
Another temporary morgue, a 15 minute drive from Salisbury, Wiltshire, is based at a gritting yard.
The refrigeration unit, which has 24/7 security, is being used to store the dead from Salisbury District Hospital.
The High Post Salt Store is based next to a business park with a gym, car parts business and art supply company.
Campaigners slammed the ‘disappointing’ use of the site, saying using a gritting yard to store bodies smacks of disrespect.
NHS data shows 5,105 flu patients, on average, were in general hospital beds in the week to January 1. The figure is up 47 per cent in a week and nearly seven times the number at the start of December. Flu patients in critical care beds have also jumped sharply, up 26 per cent week-on-week from 267 to 336
NHS data showed that ambulances record delays when handing over patients to A&E departments in the week to January 1. More than a quarter (18,720) were forced to queue for more than 60 minutes before handing over their patients to A&E (shown in graph)
The graph shows the weekly hospital admissions per 100,000 people for Covid (red) and flu (blue). UK Health Security Agency surveillance figures showed Covid admissions fell from 12 to 11 per 100,000 people, while admissions fell to 8 per 100,000 in the week to January 1
NHS data shows an average of 995 Covid patients were admitted to hospitals across England in the week to January 2. The figures suggest that the number of people seeking NHS care due to the virus, on average, peaked just before Christmas and has been trending downwards since
Joyce Robins, founder of Patient Concern, told The Sun: ‘It’s all very disappointing. It’s the sort of thing that should be planned for.
‘Putting them in a gritting yard makes it look like we just don’t care about these people when they die.
‘It’s terribly sad for the families. A bit of respect is what we need.’
Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust said the temporary service ‘operates to the national standards treating the deceased and loved ones with dignity and respect at all times regardless of location’.
Two extra refrigeration units were also set up at the Royal Liverpool Hospital last week to help deal with excess deaths.
The hospital morgue normally deals with around 2,000 death each year but is thought to be full.
Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust confirmed the two extra facilities had been set up because of ‘increased demand’.
The Human Tissue Authority, which regulates body storage, issued a national alert about ‘mortuary capacity issues’ on Tuesday.
It said: ‘Excess deaths within the United Kingdom has inevitably resulted in mortuary capacity issues and service pressures.
‘Licensed establishments are encouraged to revisit existing HTA Guidance on contingency storage arrangements for the deceased.’
Deaths in England and Wales were a fifth higher than expected at the end of 2022, official figures show.
The number of people who died in the two weeks to December 30 was 20 per cent higher than the five-year average, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It means the excess death toll in the final days of 2022 was one of the highest levels recorded across the entire year, which saw above-average fatalities almost continuously since the summer.
Experts warned against ‘simplistic’ explanations for the surge in excess mortality but pointed to the resurgence of flu, freezing temperatures, ‘inexcusable’ delays for emergency care, late diagnoses due to the pandemic.
ONS figures show that there were 9,517 fatalities in the week to December 30, 1,592 (20 per cent) more than the five-year average.
And 14,530 people died in the week to December 23, which is 2,493 (21 per cent) higher than levels typically seen at that time of at that time of year.
In the final week of the year, the biggest increase in excess deaths was reported in private homes, shooting 37 per cent higher than expected to 684.
A 20 per cent spike was reported in care homes, while hospital excess deaths increased by 15 per cent.
Just 429 fatalities in the final week of the year (4 per cent) involved Covid.
In contrast, the ONS noted that deaths involving flu and pneumonia ‘increased in recent weeks’ — accounting for 22 per cent of fatalities in the week to December 30.
For comparison, the illnesses were behind just 15 per cent of deaths at the start of December.
The ‘flu-nami’, which saw 5,105 patients taking up general and acute hospital beds per day in the last week of 2022, is piling further pressure on the health service, which is already struggling to juggle huge demand, routine winter pressures and a mammoth bed-blocking crisis.
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