The Royal Bolton Hospital was criticised for a ‘major shortfall’ after inspectors found a body which had been kept in refrigeration for more than 80 days.

An inspection by the Human Tissue Authority carried out in June last year called the finding a ‘major shortfall’, with the hospital said to have insufficient freezer storage capacity for bodies and human tissue.

During their site visit, inspectors found a body, described as being in a ‘poor condition’, which had been kept in refrigerated storage for 84 days.

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Official HTA guidance says that bodies should be moved into frozen storage after 30 days in fridges or before, depending on the condition of the body.

In their report, inspectors said the body required freezing, but all five of the hospital’s freezer spaces for long-term storage of bodies were in use.

Other shortfalls identified by the Human Tissue Authority at Royal Bolton Hospital included a lack of training with the portering team, a fridge system not connected to a temperature alarm system, and the incorrect use of labels on the outside of body bags to identify bodies.

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According to the HTA, bodies “should be identified using information that is attached to the body at all times to minimise the risk of misidentification”, such as wristbands.

Subsequently, the HTA says it is satisfied that the Royal Bolton Hospital has completed recommended actions and has addressed all shortfalls identified in the report.

The Royal Bolton Hospital said it had increased capacity after inspectors there “identified a body that had been in refrigerated storage for 84 days”.

Dr. Francis Andrews, Medical Director at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We understand how upsetting it is for families following the death of a loved one, and we’re really sorry that our aftercare in this situation fell below our usual standards.

“We are always in regular contact with the next of kin to support them through such a difficult time.

“During our recent mortuary refurbishment we had unusually high demands for the service. Although the body was stored respectfully, we unfortunately did not have the most suitable space for a short period, whilst also managing factors outside of our control.

“Extensive work has now been completed to increase our mortuary capacity, allowing us to better manage demand by converting fridge spaces into more optimal freezer space.

“We have made a number of improvements, including extra training for porters, and these changes will allow our families to continue to receive the highest level of care, respect and dignity for their loved ones.”

The problem is not just limited to the Royal Bolton.

At the Royal Blackburn Hospital, inspectors in 2022 found major flaws, including discovering “two bodies in an advanced state of decomposition as a result of not being moved into frozen storage after 30 days”.

Medical director and deputy chief executive at East Lancashire Health Trust, Jawad Husain, said: “We have a public and hospital mortuary at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital that looks after around 3,000 deceased people every year.

"In the vast majority of cases, funeral arrangements are made shortly after a person dies and we make every effort to provide a dignified service until that happens.

“There are some situations where a person has no family and if no next of kin can be found, the local council takes care of the funeral arrangements. This means the deceased is in the mortuary for a longer period.

“When the Human Tissue Authority visited in 2022, sadly there were two people with no next of kin awaiting a funeral and our freezer, which is only used when bodies are with us after 30 days, were at capacity.

"We have put improvements in place and the Human Tissue Authority confirmed to us last year that it is satisfied we have addressed any issues raised following its inspection."

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS takes its responsibilities in this area seriously and all NHS trusts must follow the Human Tissue Authority’s guidance on mortuary storage practices.”

 A spokeswoman for the HTA said: “The management of the deceased in some licensed mortuaries was identified as a concern through the HTA on-site inspection process.

“The deceased should be stored at temperatures that preserve their condition and there should be sufficient storage provision and alternatives in place if needed.

“We expect all licensed establishments to be compliant with our standards and ensure the dignity of the deceased is maintained.

“When we find shortfalls we work with establishments to ensure an action plan for improvement is put in place, lessons are learnt and the issue is escalated within the establishment where necessary.”

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