Funeral Director - Code of Practice: consultation analysis

Analysis of the consultation carried out between June and September 2019 on the proposed Funeral Director: Code of Practice.

7. Reportable Incidents: Question 17

Question 17

The Code sets out two events/reportable incidents that should be reported to inspectors within 48 hours. These are: damage to ashes and complaints about the care of deceased persons. Are there any other events/reportable incidents that should automatically be reported to inspectors within 48 hours, e.g. accidental damage to a deceased person?

Seventy-six of the 86 total consultation respondents answered Question 17. Overall, a majority (42) of those who responded answered 'yes', that there were more than the two events/reportable incidents that should be reported to inspectors within 48 hours. The rest of the respondents were evenly divided between responding 'no' and 'don't know'.

Table 22: Responses to Question 17.
Answer Number
Yes 42
No 17
Don't know 17
Total 76

From the open-ended comments received, some stated that the proposed reporting requirements were sufficient, and noting that the "two incidents proposed would cover all eventualities." (Faith/religion based organisation)

However, the majority of comments received suggested the Code was too narrow in scope. Some comments suggested the reporting requirement should be made as broad as possible, and examples were provided:

"I think that anything that causes concern to a family should be able to be reported as soon as possible, within 48 hours. Including the attitude of staff to family members/general public." (Individual)

Where these types of comments provided more detail, they were categorised into four groups: (i) incidents involving bodies or remains; (ii) incidents that do not involve bodies or remains; (iii) need for greater clarity in the Code; (iv) procedure for reporting.

First, 14 comments specifically noted that any events/incidents directly involving deceased peoples' bodies, or remains, should be reported to inspectors within 48 hours. Similarly, many respondents also felt the loss or misidentification of bodies or remains was necessary to report. For example:

"As care of the deceased and their ashes are the most important things the industry are entrusted with these should be the focus of the 48 hour reportable events. Any incident relating to the loss of, or the failure to be able to identify, a deceased person (including ashes) should be immediately reported to the Inspector." (Funeral industry trade body)

However, a small minority of comments expressed that minor, accidental damage to deceased people should not be reported:

"I would caution against requiring funeral directors to report any accidental damage to a deceased person as this would include very minor damage such as a slight marking of the skin, which can happen." (Funeral director organisation)

Second, many comments suggested that a number of other incidents which do not directly involve deceased peoples' bodies or remains should be reportable. For example, a small number of comments pertained to the mishandling of deceased people's personal effects as a reportable offence (although it was also suggested this type of offence could be subject to a secondary, longer reporting timescale).

Respondents sometimes provided examples of multiple potential reportable offences, which went beyond the treatment of personal effects. These are listed below:

  • Any form of malpractice or serious incident,
  • General uncleanliness of a premises,
  • Actions of doctors and/or coroners (relating to delays for funeral directors/their clients),
  • Failure to complete necessary documents,
  • Harassment claims,
  • Inappropriate pursuit of business during sudden death call outs,
  • Staff misconduct,
  • Any accident involving the vehicle used to transport a deceased person,
  • A business going insolvent,
  • Breakdown or failure of essential equipment,
  • Damage or break-ins at premises,
  • Disputes over donations,
  • Client's dissatisfaction with services,
  • Failure to adhere to instructions regarding care of the deceased or funeral arrangements,
  • Clients being provided incorrect information regarding burial/cremation processes or availability.

Third, a set of comments called for more clarity in this section of the Code, particularly regarding definitions or descriptions of terms used:

"…"Complaints about care of deceased" could be worded better - wording along these lines is liable to give rise to minor complaints such as issues regarding presentation of hair/make up, etc..." (Funeral director organisation)

"We agree that loss or damage to ashes should be a reportable event. Additional clarity over what 'damage' means may be beneficial. In relation to care of the deceased, we believe that Point 51 in Section 5 requires further definition in relation to reportable events. For example, this should include specifically the mis-identification of the deceased which has resulted in an incorrect cremation or burial. In addition, we would expect that it is not just complaints which would need to be reported, but self-reporting by firms should take place when it is established that certain events have occurred, irrespective of whether a complaint has been received from a client. We would also request further clarity on the extent to which 'near misses' regarding mis-identification (of either ashes or care of the deceased) would be reportable." (Funeral director organisation)

Finally, a minority of comments related to the issue of self-reporting and the appropriateness of reporting to inspectors. Certain respondents suggested that the Code should compel or otherwise incentivise self-reporting by funeral directors. This is evident in the comment directly above. However, another small minority of respondents suggested complaints or issues are or should be dealt with by other entities than inspectors. For example, that any complaints should be dealt with internally or by trade bodies. One comment also noted that "all aspects of our work are governed by other agencies such as health and safety and environmental health". (Funeral director organisation)



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