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I, too, thank Richard Lochhead for bringing the issue to Parliament.
Few of us feel comfortable when dealing with the practical aspects of saying a final farewell to our loved ones, so it is important to have professional help at that sad time. We expect the process of preparing for burial or cremation to be dignified and to be undertaken with great care and respect—and in most cases that is what happens. We do not expect our loved ones to be subjected to a setting that is reminiscent of a shed in a backyard. However, that was the experience of Maryan Whyte after her husband Frank died in a sailing accident in May.
Frank was taken to Spynie mortuary in Elgin, where Maryan—whom I also had the pleasure of meeting when she came into the Parliament recently—found him lying not in comfort and security but in dampness and squalor. Frank lay on a trolley in the middle of a darkened room, the only things covering him being a blanket and a throw. Maryan described the environment as being “unkempt”, “run down” and akin to “an old garage”. It is beyond belief that her husband should have been left in a room that appeared abandoned and unmaintained. No wonder she described herself as feeling “desolate”.
The bereaved are already in great pain following their loss and it is appalling that that pain should be compounded unnecessarily by neglect from those in authority, who should know better. We constantly fight for the basic rights of the living, but we are surely entitled to dignity in death, too. That is not what the Whyte family encountered in Elgin. Every mortuary should have basic necessities in order to effectively comfort, console and care for the grieving. However, it would be wrong to assume that that is the picture that is seen throughout Scotland—the truth is that we simply do not know.
This awful case has shone a light on the issue and, as others have said, it is incumbent on the Government to instigate a review of mortuaries and their condition throughout the country. Let us find out what the picture is nationwide and then have a plan to rectify any failings that we find.
It is essential for mortuaries to provide high standards of care and an adequate setting in order to meet the needs of us all. If mortuaries underperform or fail to do what is expected of them, it is up to the Government to act and promote better standards. I rather like the idea of having an overarching body to deal with mortuaries. A nationwide inspection of mortuaries will not only highlight areas for improvement but evidence the hard work and commitment of professionals who are getting it right. Good practice must be highlighted, shared and celebrated. Ultimately, improvements in practice can only benefit the most important people at their worst time—the deceased and their grieving loved ones.
Maryan and her family have been brave to bring their campaign here. It is not easy for people to put themselves in the spotlight and I thank them for doing so. Their experience may help others, and it is up to us to make sure that that is what happens.