Plans to store 100 more bodies at Bristol region’s mortuary have been approved.
The decision to extend the morgue at Flax Bourton came after the city’s director of public health told councillors it was regularly over capacity during winter and there was a risk it could become “overwhelmed”.
It means the number of dead people it can hold will rise by almost three-quarters, from 135 to 235.
A report to Bristol City Council cabinet said the expansion would replace the current overspill set-up of four temporary refrigerated units outside the building, which need to be replaced every five to 10 years and are used when the mortuary’s body reception and storage area is full.
Members approved the £1.25million project, with just over £500,000 coming from the council, as the area’s lead local authority for death management, and the rest split proportionately between Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
In a written submission to a recent cabinet meeting, Bristol director of communities and public health Christina Gray said: “The current mortuary system is routinely over capacity during winter months and there remains a risk that facilities would be overwhelmed without additional capacity.
“Mortuary capacity was identified as a gap following the last pandemic flu exercise.
“A permanent solution needs to be found with some urgency and the extension of the facilities at Flax Bourton would be the most appropriate option in the medium and longer term.”
Her assessment, written back in November, said: “It is anticipated that during this course of Covid-19 pandemic there will be subsequent waves. These are expected to combine with winter and other system pressures in 2021 and into 2022 and beyond.
“With the system under stress, other risks including the possibility of excess mortality and mass casualty events are increasingly likely.
“At the point of writing the terror threat has been raised to high, winter mortality is rising and there is concern about the risk of flu early in 2022 and again in 2023.
“The extra mortuary capacity is long overdue and much needed.”
Death management, including burials and cremations, a mortuary, autopsy room and responding to mass fatalities, is one of the lesser known duties of councils, although the pandemic brought this to wider attention.
Cabinet papers said the morgue, which opened in 2009, had needed to use the external contingency storage units frequently over the last six years.
“The result of over-capacity is regular service suspension which impacts on the NHS trusts and funeral directors,” the report said.
“We propose to undertake a permanent integral extension to the Flax Bourton Public and Forensic Mortuary building, expanding the body reception and storage area, increasing capacity by around 74 per cent, from 135 to house approximately 235 deceased.
“This extension would allow us to continue to ensure we meet our statutory duties, and to build on the strong working relationships we have developed during the pandemic with our partners to provide peace of mind for families that their loved ones are held safely, securely and are treated with dignity and respect after a bereavement.”