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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 Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

This is undoubtedly one of the rare occasions in politics when all of us, from all parties in the chamber, can unite in common cause. We can unite in thanking Richard Lochhead, the constituency MSP for Moray, for securing the debate and for helping constituents to bring this badly neglected issue to the Parliament’s attention. We can also unite in thanking Mrs Whyte and her daughters, and their wider family, for their efforts to improve the standard of mortuaries not just in Moray but throughout Scotland.

Despite the fact that death is an inevitable part of life, the death of someone whom we love is one of the toughest experiences that we ever go through, and sudden or unexpected death is particularly distressing. In the midst of normal everyday life, with no hint of warning, the worst possible thing happens and our world is turned upside down. The shock causes strong physical and emotional responses. It can be quite literally gut-wrenching, and it can feel unreal—it can be really hard to take in what is happening. However, despite that fog in our brains, we create vivid memories at the time that become central to our experience of bereavement.

I think that we can all agree that the experience of sudden or unexpected death is traumatic enough, and that the experience of making a formal identification should not add to the trauma. If the service is sensitive to the family’s needs at that traumatic time, it can help turn the tide of profound grief and make the ordeal liveable; it might even create some positive memories. I cannot be the only person who was shocked to hear about the poor-quality facilities that Mrs Whyte and her family faced at Spynie mortuary after her husband Frank died in an accident earlier this year.

All of us expect mortuaries to have certain minimum standards. All of us expect mortuaries to be maintained to a standard that demonstrates care, dignity and respect. All of us expect mortuaries to be sensitive to the needs of families and loved ones, and to provide comfort. All of us expect mortuaries to provide families and loved ones with a place to recover and compose themselves before they face the outside world again. All of us expect, at the very least, mortuaries to have toilet facilities. It is disappointing that the facilities at Spynie mortuary in Moray fell so far short our expectations. However, it is really pleasing that action has already been taken by NHS Grampian to remedy the situation.

I admire the Whyte family for campaigning on the issue, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to tell them so when I met them with Richard Lochhead in Parliament last month. To face their situation and to come through it with a determination to ensure that other families will not have to face similar situations is a credit to them. That determination to turn a desperate experience into a positive change is truly inspirational. The knowledge that they have already effected change locally and nationally must bring some comfort and is a fitting legacy for an undoubtedly much-loved husband, father and grandfather.