Human Tissue Authority

The regulator for human tissue and organs

Contingency arrangements for mortuaries during busy periods

Winter can be an especially challenging time of year for health services. For mortuaries, higher numbers of deaths can pose problems if adequate numbers of refrigerated storage spaces are unavailable. Establishments should therefore have documented contingency plans explaining what to do if the mortuary body store is nearing full capacity, or if the post mortem suite is temporarily unavailable. In particular, storage of bariatric or infectious cases, and deep freeze arrangements, should be considered.

You can download our previous Storage capacity and contingency arrangements in mortuaries: Guidance for Designated Individuals in HTA-licensed establishments, and also via the menu on the left of this page you can view all of our previous and updated recommendations by type.

Contingency arrangements should ensure the condition and dignity of deceased persons, traceability of bodies and security are not compromised. Appropriate contingency measures may include:

  • making reciprocal arrangements with other HTA-licensed mortuaries to use their facilities;
  • installing temporary racking in the mortuary, or in an adjacent building, for storage of bodies;
  • use of ‘chiller blankets’ (if suitable refrigerated storage cannot be found);
  • arranging with local funeral directors to store bodies at their premises (see licensing note below).

Please note that placing more than one body on fridge trays or storing bodies in unrefrigerated areas, are not considered suitable practices.

Temporary changes to routine working practices can heighten the risk of an HTA Reportable Incident (HTARI) occurring. To mitigate this, Designated Individuals should formally risk assess their contingency arrangements and keep this assessment under regular review to ensure these arrangements continue to be adequate. We also recommend that Licence Holders include body storage on the corporate risk register.

Establishments should inform HM Coroner and the HTA if bodies awaiting coronial post mortem examination are to be moved to other premises.

Licensing

Designated Individuals should be aware that:

  • bodies of deceased persons awaiting post mortem examination can be stored temporarily at unlicensed premises for up to one week before being transferred to HTA-licensed premises, this storage is deemed incidental to transportation and is not subject to licensing;
  • bodies of deceased persons awaiting burial or cremation are not being stored for a scheduled purpose, and therefore do not need to be stored at licensed premises.

Please do not hesitate to contact the HTA Regulation Team if you have any questions or if you are having difficulty dealing with winter pressures.

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HTA advice for mortuaries on contingency arrangements during busy periods