Bodies stored at temporary site as Surrey hospital mortuaries reach capacity

11 January 2021, 07:10 | Updated: 11 January 2021, 07:46

File photo: A general view of the temporary mortuary set up to handle Covid-19 deaths at the Bristol City Council Depot
File photo: A general view of the temporary mortuary set up to handle Covid-19 deaths at the Bristol City Council Depot. Picture: Getty

By Megan White

Bodies are being stored at a temporary facility in Surrey after the county's hospital mortuaries reached capacity amid rising Covid-19 case rates.

Some 170 bodies are being kept in the temporary mortuary at Headley Court in Leatherhead, which first opened in April to alleviate pressure during the first wave of the pandemic.

More than half of those kept at the facility died with coronavirus, a Surrey Local Resilience Forum spokesman said.

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The county's hospital mortuaries have the capacity to store 600 bodies but are currently full, while the temporary facility has room for 800.

The Surrey Local Resilience Forum spokesman said the county would be left in "real difficulty" if the 1,400 capacity is exceeded in the coming weeks.

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He said: "To put some perspective on this, during the first wave, they had 700 bodies go through that (temporary) facility.

"The first wave lasted approximately 12 weeks from mid-March to mid-May.

"Since December 21, after just two-and-a-half weeks, they have had 300 bodies go through it."

The number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital has reached a record high in England, while the official coronavirus death toll for the UK passed 80,000 at the weekend and lab-confirmed cases hit more than three million.

As of Sunday, a further 563 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the UK total to 81,431.

Separate figures published by the UK's statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 97,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

On Sunday, Professor Chris Whitty warned that the NHS is facing the "most dangerous situation anyone can remember" as Covid deaths and hospital admissions reach record levels.

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England's chief medical officer (CMO) once again urged people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary in order to prevent further avoidable deaths.

"Hospitals are always busy in winter, but the NHS in some parts of the country is currently facing the most dangerous situation anyone can remember," the CMO wrote in the Sunday Times.

"If the virus continues on this trajectory, hospitals will be in real difficulties, and soon.

"Staff-to-patient ratios - already stretched - will become unacceptable even in intensive care."

England has reached a record-high number of people in hospital with coronavirus, with many trusts surpassing the number seen at the peak of the first wave.

It comes as the government announced that regular rapid testing for people without Covid symptoms will be rolled out across England in the next week.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said its expansion of the community testing programme to everyone without Covid-19 is "crucial given that around one in three people" who contract the virus are asymptomatic.

Councils will be encouraged to test people who are unable to work from home during the third national lockdown, which will include police officers, supermarket workers and taxi drivers.

Lateral flow tests that can give results in around half an hour will be central to the rollout, which will be "expanded to cover all 317 local authorities", DHSC said.