News | Published April 07 2020

Managing Director of Abbey Funeral Services: “It goes against everything we stand for”

Concerns have been raised about the risk funeral directors face as Covid-19 continues to spread across the UK. In an exclusive article for The Parliamentary Review, newly appointed managing director of Abbey Funeral Services, Jo Parker, voices her concerns that the industry may not be able to cope if a high number of staff members have to isolate because of coronavirus, at the same time as the profession is faced with an unprecedented number of deaths.

The profession has been planning for a pandemic for the last decade, and Abbey already had a plan in place which we executed very early on in the crisis. This initially, included restricting the number of visitors to the office and the use of limousines. As our offices are small, we were unable to keep the two metres rule and so then closed the office completely and carried out all interviews with client families by telephone or Skype.

Our office staff are all working from home with only our back-office team attending the premises. We have been confused and frightened by the government advice regarding the risks to death care workers when handling the bodies of people who were infected with Covid-19. Original guidance was that body bags were needed, advice which was later rescinded. We are taking no chances with the health of our staff and are assuming all remains are highly infectious and taking the relevant precautions.

Private businesses, funeral directors, privately owned care homes and home care agencies are overlooked when it comes to the need for PPE. Ours does not come from government sources and we have to obtain it ourselves, which has meant scouring the internet as our regular suppliers soon ran out. It is a matter of huge concern to the industry; it will be the lack of PPE that makes a funeral company non- operational long before staffing and mortuary capacity issues. We have now been able to source a limited supply of some items through Kent resilience and we hope that the same is true in other areas. SAIF our trade association is working with Government to get more supplies to the independent funeral directors, but we are still short on items and the cost has definitely escalated.

We are trying to make funerals as special as possible in the circumstances. Most funeral directors’ guiding philosophy is that they’ll organise anything a client wants as long as it’s legal and at the moment we can’t do that. It goes against everything we stand for. The hardest part of being a funeral director right now is seeing families unable to say goodbye to loved ones in the way they want. As ever with funerals, it’s the little things that make a big difference, for example, there’s no hugging, people have to sit apart when all they want to be is close. it is incredibly difficult to persuade mourners to stay two metres apart. People want to lean in and be close. The restrictions literally mean there is no shoulder to cry on. It’s an unthinkable situation. However, the alternative of no one attending is far more difficult for a family.

As a business that continues to provide bereavement support after a funeral, we are concerned for those who are alone, isolated and grieving. We have set up a telephone support system for these people and our regular bereavement support groups are meeting via a telephone link.

This is, and will continue to be for some time, the biggest challenge many end of life professionals will face during their career. We are mindful of the emotional impact this may have on staff and have support in place for them.

We can only hope and pray that we come through this soon and emerge stronger and better prepared to face major challenges in the future.

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Authored by

Jo Parker
Managing Director, Abbey Funeral Services
April 07 2020

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