Stocks of body bags across the UK are running out due to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing health workers to wrap victims of Covid-19 in sheets, according to reports.
The GMB Union has warned that porters have become “inundated with bodies, which are now wrapped in sheets and are being backed up awaiting collection as the mortuary ‘is overflowing’.”
Barber Medical, which has the NHS contract for mortuary supplies, has meanwhile told the BBC that zipped mortuary bags can not currently be sourced in the UK.
Amid reports that hospitals are facing severe shortages, Public Health England (PHE) has said that body bags “are not deemed necessary”.
“Due to the consolidation of respiratory secretions and rapid degradation of the virus when not sustained by live tissues, residual hazard from body fluid spillage will not present a risk,” says official PHE guidance.
“Therefore, body bags are not deemed necessary but may be used for other practical reasons. Placing a cloth or mask over the mouth of the deceased when moving them can help to prevent the release of aerosols.”
Recent studies have shown that coronavirus can survive for up to three days on environmental surfaces in “room air” conditions.
In deceased bodies, particularly those retained at refrigeration conditions, the virus may persist for longer and testing for suspected cases should be considered, PHE adds.
Shortages of body bags are said to be most severe in London. Michael Tiney, a funeral director in west London, said that two hospitals have turned to him for help securing more supplies.
“We try to help out as much as we can but we also need a source of equipment as well. Every case we get called to, whether it’s in at home or a nursing home we’re having to treat it as Covid-19, so every body is going out in a body bag,” he told the Metro.
At Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, in the London borough of Sutton, “traumatised” health workers have been told to use sheets to transport deceased patients because body bags have “run out”, according to the GMB Union.
Helen O’Connor, a GMB regional organiser at Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, said: “We are extremely concerned about the psychological and physical wellbeing of our hospital members who are traumatised and struggling to cope with the impact of this pandemic.
“They are on the front line, doing the type of work that would distress anyone and increasingly dealing with death.”
Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust denied the claim, insisting it has not run out of body bags. ”We can confirm that we do not have a shortage of body bags and we have room in our mortuaries to support deceased patients. Also we have extended our mortuary capacity by 30 places and have made use of the surge mortuary capacity in London,” a spokesperson said.
Shortages also appear to be affecting other parts of the UK. Jonathan Robinson, of Joseph C Roberts independent funeral directors in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, said: “The shortage of body bags is widespread. We are aware that a major supplier in the UK has run out of stock.”
Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director at PHE, told The Independent: “PHE’s guidance for the care of the deceased with suspected or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) was produced in close consultation with a range of experts and stakeholders, and is aligned with guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive and European Centre for Disease Control.
“We are regularly reviewing guidance and welcome feedback to ensure that it remains up to date and clear.”