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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 Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I, too, am grateful to Richard Lochhead for lodging his motion, and I am grateful for the chance to respond on the Scottish Government’s behalf. I am also grateful for the contributions of all the members who took part in the debate. They spoke with a great deal of compassion.

I know that everyone here is and was shocked by the Whyte family’s description of what they went through. That is how I felt when I heard about it from Richard Lochhead’s correspondence and the media. In Richard Lochhead’s words, the Whyte family’s experience was “wholly unacceptable”.

It is hard to even begin to imagine how upsetting it must be to deal with the loss of a loved one in such tragic and unexpected circumstances as those that Mrs Whyte found herself facing. To have then been asked to visit the mortuary at Spynie hospital, which was obviously in such a poor and inappropriate condition, was completely unacceptable, and it compounded the family’s upset, trauma and pain.

I pass on my sincerest condolences to Mrs Whyte and her family, who are in the public gallery, and say how sorry I was to hear of their experience. I have met the family and conveyed that privately, but I very much welcome the opportunity to do so today in public. I appreciate the strength that the family have shown in discussing their concerns with me. That cannot have been easy, but their desire to make a difference shows remarkable courage and is a true inspiration.

The Scottish Government issues guidance on mortuary facilities to all NHS boards and fully expects them to apply it. The guidance sets out the clear requirement that viewings should take place in appropriately serene, calming and dignified surroundings. It is clear that the guidance was not adhered to in the Whytes’ case. That is troubling and deeply concerning and it leads to many questions.

Before coming to those questions, I should say that I am aware that NHS Grampian has been in regular contact with the Whyte family in recent weeks and months, and it has taken steps to ensure that what happened to Mrs Whyte and her family will not happen to anyone else in the Grampian area. The health board has reassured me that, from this point onwards, all viewings will take place in more appropriate surroundings at Dr Gray’s hospital, and it will not ask any family to visit Spynie mortuary again. I will endeavour to ensure that security of provision, which Douglas Ross raised, is carefully looked at.

It is positive that the health board has taken action in this case, but the Whyte family’s experience raises certain questions, as I mentioned. One is the extent to which health boards across Scotland are complying with the requirements that we have set out clearly. As an immediate first step on hearing of the Whytes’ experience, I wrote to ask all health boards to assure me that they are complying with the current guidance on mortuary provision. I further asked that, if they could not do that, they give me a detailed plan on how they will rectify that as a matter of urgency.

My officials and I will take care to scrutinise the responses that we receive from the health boards, and we will press the boards to ensure that facilities are brought up to standard in any case where they fall short. It will absolutely be a requirement that boards do that as quickly as they can, and there will be no excuses.

I have instructed officials to begin a thorough review of the present guidance to ensure that it is fully up to date, is sufficiently detailed and leaves nothing to doubt. Once the review is completed, the renewed guidance will be issued to each health board chief executive.