Bodies to be ‘stored in truck’ if Arrowe Park mortuary fills

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Up to 50 bodies could be stored in a refrigerated truck if mortuary capacity runs out at Arrowe Park Hospital due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of contingency planning for the crisis, public health officials in Wirral arranged "mobile mortuary capacity" to cope with a COVID-19 surge.

So far, 169 people have died from the disease at Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which includes Arrowe Park, although only one additional death was reported yesterday.

The Birkenhead hospital has not yet needed to store bodies in the truck, which was commissioned by Wirral Council, and it is unclear how long the contingency will remain in place.

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The details of the plan emerged in a report to the board of Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group, which controls health budgets in the peninsular.

Arrowe Park Hospital, in Wirral

The report from the System Clinical Covid Group, involving officials from the CCG, Wirral Council and Public Health England, said: "Mortuary capacity is being addressed and a refrigerated truck with capacity for 50 has been obtained."

The report, compiled by CCG chairwoman Dr Paula Cowan, also described how supplies and facilities to provide oxygen had proved the "key issues" to getting the response to the pandemic right in Wirral.

It said: "The key issues in recent weeks for [Arrowe Park] is oxygen capacity and delivery.

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"This is being coordinated nationally with the aim for further supply in coming weeks."

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (WUTH), which runs Arrowe Park, said upgrades had been carried out on oxygen facilities in the hospital.

According to the report, cancellations to elective surgery and outpatients appointments being carried out remotely mean the hospital's bed capacity is around 56%.

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A spokeswoman for the trust said: "For some time now WUTH, along with the NHS, has been preparing for and anticipating a potential surge in COVID-19 patients requiring inpatient hospital treatment.

"As part of this planning, we identified an emerging need for additional oxygen supply and took steps to provide more capacity.

"At no time were patients put at risk and adequate oxygen supplies were maintained in a safe manner whilst works were undertaken to upgrade the plant at Arrowe Park Hospital.

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"The additional mobile mortuary capacity was also part of contingency planning –and up to now, we have not had to use this mortuary space.

"We have a dedicated Family Support Team, who have helped over 400 families during the COVID-19 pandemic and they assist patients and families in accessing services and bereavement support where necessary."

Yesterday the number of new coronavirus deaths in UK hospitals rose by its lowest total in seven weeks as the Government prepares to announce a route out of lockdown.

A further 223 deaths were registered by hospitals across the country, including 204 in England, five in Scotland and 14 in Wales, taking the UK's total to 24,338 as it entered the seventh week of the lockdown.