Pilot scheme allows undertakers to handle Covid-19-related deaths at deceased’s home
Prior to the pilot, health protocols state that bodies of Covid-19 patients must be bagged by hospital staff.
- Some undertakers are involved in a pilot that allows the handling of Covid-19-related deaths outside of a hospital setting
- These undertakers are trained in basic infection control
- Prior to the pilot, health protocols state that bodies of Covid-19 patients must be bagged by hospital staff
- Funeral staff were previously able to handle Covid-19-related bodies only at hospital mortuaries
Some undertakers are now able to handle the bodies of people who die from complications due to Covid-19 at the deceased’s home, something they previously could not do due to guidelines set by the authorities, as part of a pilot programme.
Under the pilot, which began on Nov 8, doctors will certify Covid-19-related deaths, after which funeral directors can help conduct the necessary rites and transfer the deceased to a funeral parlour or directly to the crematorium.
A spokesperson for the Association of Funeral Directors (AFD) told TODAY on Friday that 14 of its members are involved in the pilot.
Under the programme, the deceased no longer need to be transferred to a medical facility before being released into a funeral director’s care, said AFD’s spokesperson.
Instead, the scheme allows funeral staff who are trained in basic infection control by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases to place the deceased in body bags.
Under present National Environment Agency (NEA) protocols, bodies of Covid-19 patients must be bagged by hospital workers before being placed in a sealed coffin.
Prior to the pilot, AFD’s spokesperson said funeral directors are permitted to handle bodies of Covid-19 patients only at hospital mortuaries.
“The regulations (did) not allow funeral directors to do this anywhere else,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson did not state how long the pilot scheme would last, but the goal is to eventually allow all funeral service providers whose staff have undergone the basic infection control course to handle Covid-19-related deaths outside of a hospital setting.
At present, the spokesperson said most of the association’s members have staff who have undergone the course as they are occasionally called upon to handle patients who died due to other communicable diseases such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis.
“When the pandemic began in early 2020, our members were ready to handle Covid-related deaths,” said the spokesperson.
REVISITING COVID-19 REGULATIONS
The issue of conveying the bodies of individuals who died from Covid-19 at home came under the spotlight when a Straits Times report on Nov 1 highlighted the case of a 99-year-old man who died and his family had difficulty having the body taken to a mortuary.
In response to the report, the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) director for aged care services, Mr Titus Lee, said in a Straits Times Forum letter that his ministry’s “processes allowed (the deceased) to be conveyed to the mortuary but the undertakers were reluctant to do so”.
However, the AFD said in a reply on Nov 6 that this was not the case, as regulations had prevented the undertakers from doing so.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Nov 8 that he was aware of the issues highlighted by the AFD, and his ministry would “take the feedback and revisit the regulations”, and improve them if they are unclear.
“We will also work closely with the NEA and some of the funeral directors to ensure that whatever revised regulations we have can allow them to safely handle Covid-positive cases who pass away at home,” said Mr Ong during a press conference by the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic.
Mr Ong had also said that while healthcare protocols state that Covid-19 patients aged above 80 will be warded in hospital, his ministry will respect their decision if they choose to be cared for at home.
“But if we do so, we must also be prepared for the possibility that some patients who are at the end of their lives, and who will request to be cared for at home, may pass away at home,” he said.
“And should this happen, we will also make the subsequent process smoother.”
AFD’s spokesperson told TODAY that they have already provided their inputs to the MOH for crafting guidelines on handling Covid-19 deaths in the community.
The association was unable to share details of its proposal as parts of it are still under consideration.
ABLE TO MANAGE, FOR NOW
Meanwhile, AFD’s spokesperson told TODAY that if the number of Covid-19-related deaths does not spike significantly, funeral directors can manage them “without compromising the quality of services rendered”.
“When there are more Covid deaths, it takes away the funeral directors from other funerals they need to perform their duty for,” said the spokesperson.
Still, the pandemic has led to some other challenges such as longer working hours, which is not helped by the perennial problem of insufficient manpower.
“The state of the funeral profession in Singapore today is a result of very few people choosing to join over the last two decades,” said the spokesperson.
As such, there is little the industry can do if there is a spike in deaths as it takes time to train a funeral director and for him to accumulate experience.
“Singapore can only work with whatever small group of funeral professionals it has now to deal with the number of deaths we see today,” said the spokesperson.
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