A public service trades union whose members work at St Helier Hospital in the covid-19 crisis say that some have been left “traumatised” after they were ordered to use bedsheets to transport deceased patients because body bags have “run out”.
According to the GMB union, porters working across the Epson and St Helier hospital trust have been “inundated with bodies, which are now wrapped in sheets and are being backed up awaiting collection”.
The mortuary, GMB members claim, “is overflowing”.
NHS officials at the Trust denied the union claims.
The porters say they are being expected to work with just a thin plastic apron, disposable gloves and a flimsy mask, as they rush around the hospital carrying out an often difficult and distressing task.
According to the GMB: “The scenes they are witnessing on a daily basis leave them ‘distressed and anxious’ and they are increasingly concerned about contracting the virus themselves. They are also worried that safety standards are slipping down in the trust as the death toll mounts.”
Last month, at the beginning of the coronavirus emergency, staff contracted by Mitie working at Epsom and St Helier were instructed only to wear PPE – personal protection equipment – on the “advice of a clinical colleague”. It is almost exactly one month since St Helier was among the first hospitals in London to report the death of a patient with coronavirus.
Today, responding to the latest scandal to emerge from the Epsom and St Helier Trust, GMB organiser Helen O’Connor told Inside Croydon, “We are extremely concerned about the psychological and physical well-being of our hospital members who are traumatised and struggling to cope with the impact of this pandemic.
“They are on the frontline doing the type of work that would distress anyone and increasingly dealing with death.
“They know that operating without body bags and flimsy PPE puts them and their families at increased risk of contracting this deadly virus. We call on Epsom and St Helier trust to take urgent measures to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of these key workers during this crisis.”
For its part, the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust denied that the hospitals had run out of body bags, or that the mortuary was over-full, though they did say that one deceased patient had been moved without a body bag.
Daniel Elkeles, the Trust’s chief executive, claimed that the hospitals were following Public Health England guidance which states, “… body bags are not deemed necessary”, in all cases involving patients who have died with coronavirus.
“We can confirm that we do not have a shortage of body bags and we have room in our mortuaries to support deceased patients,” Elkeles said in a statement issued to Inside Croydon.
“We continue to follow PHE guidance on providing protective equipment and make this available to our staff. We have stocks available to support our porters and other staff and will continue to work with all of our staff to ensure they feel safe as they care for our patients.”
* Updated at 6pm on April 6 to accommodate the statement from the NHS Trust
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