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Mortuary Facilities (Standards)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I congratulate Richard Lochhead on bringing the debate to the chamber, and I agree whole-heartedly with 100 per cent of his speech. I welcome Maryan Whyte, and her granddaughter Isla Robertson from Forres academy, to Parliament today. It is the second time that the family have been down here in recent weeks. Through their personal tragedy and the experience that they have undergone, the strength that they have shown in trying to better the facilities in mortuaries throughout Scotland is highly commendable.

I met Maryan Whyte last Friday in Elgin, exactly five months to the day since Frank tragically died. I will read out a couple of words about him from the press coverage following his death: he was a

“beloved boatbuilder” and

“a jovial character, who liked ... a good yarn.

The family understandably miss Frank, but we hope that their campaign since his death will lead to improvements so that other families do not have to experience the same issues to which Richard Lochhead referred.

I will not reiterate everything that Richard Lochhead said about the experience that the family—Maryan, Sharon and Natalie—went through, but Spynie mortuary could not, in 2016, be considered to be fit for purpose. The facility was built in 1933 and closed by the NHS 12 years ago, so why did the local authority, the police force and the NHS think that it was right in this day and age to continue to use it as a mortuary?

Things have changed and the situation has moved on quickly since the incident five months ago, and there are now temporary measures in place for viewing at Dr Gray’s hospital. However, the storage of bodies continues at Spynie, and I have serious concerns about the security of the facility. That issue has been raised locally in the press, and we need to ensure that security at Spynie is improved.

In addition, we need to not rely on the temporary replacement at Dr Gray’s but to look for a long-term replacement, because Dr Gray’s is not ideal. Bodies must be moved across the car park to the viewing gallery on the other side of the campus, and that is not suitable for anyone. We must ensure that a better process is put in place.

I would like the minister to explain in summing up where—as Richard Lochhead asked—the responsibility lies. Is it with the NHS, the police or the local authority? Should we have an overarching governing body for all the mortuaries in Scotland to ensure that, if there is an issue, people know that they can go to the NHS, police or the local authority? At the moment there is too much confusion on that very emotive and personal issue, and we need further information on it.

I also wish to know why there is no inspectorate of mortuary facilities. If there was, Spynie would never have been used. It took a personal tragedy and a campaigning family to bring about change, instead of the concerns that clearly existed about Spynie being addressed by someone going in and checking the facilities. There are very good examples of mortuaries across Scotland, but there are very bad examples. Moray has been highlighted as a bad example, but it is not alone. We need to do more to inspect facilities to ensure that this is not allowed to happen again.

Maryan asked me to ensure that I mentioned the website and Richard Lochhead has done that already. The email address to which the family want information sent is They want to hear from more families across Scotland to ensure that we get this right across the country.

Richard Lochhead quoted Professor Stewart Fleming and I will finish by reiterating this quote from him:

“A mortuary should ensure dignity and respect for the deceased, comfort and support for bereaved relatives and friends and be a suitable working environment for professionals involved in the care of the deceased and the investigation of death.”

In light of the Whyte family’s experiences following their personal tragedy, we can only hope that that standard, written by Professor Fleming, can be replicated across Scotland, so that the family’s campaign will have made a big difference not only in Moray but throughout our country. I commend them for everything that they have done.