Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dispatches – Channel 4, 8.00pm 25th June 2012

There were obvious things being done wrongly - glaring errors in the care of the deceased and the level of staff training - management and possibly appropriate staffing, however, it was a programme that clearly set out to 'bash the Co-Op'. While I personally can't stand the industrialisation of funerals and don't approve of the use of funeral arrangers to arrange everything front of house and then an unknown (to the family) Funeral Director turning up on the day of the funeral....with the unconnected back-stage people just seeing to manual tasks - I feel strongly that the programme needed to do some work in the independent sector too as balance. The funeral sector is un-regulated, with trade bodies trying to 'police' members internally - and with the ex funeral ombudsman clearly ignorant of what is involved, one asks how to progress at all? I want to share several questions/points. 1. With the number of people dying - would the general population be willing to have more active mortuary units behind their high-street funeral homes, rather than large hubs - and possibly pay extra for them? - Funeral costs are moaned about at this stage - it could possibly be worse. Even issues of storage for the number of correctly sized coffins required on a daily basis is beyond the imagination of most people; perhaps the coffin work could be done offsite...but space for the dead is still going to be a concern, and getting them to the chapel of rest subtly is always an issue in a high-street site. I know more than one excellent funeral home on a trading estate - possibly we should move death off the high street altogether - or alternatively educate people (not just snipe pointedly), into what is actually involved. 2. With the increasing popularisation of eccentrically shaped coffins - would the general population be prepared to pay also for separate storage and transportation of them if necessary? 3. Why did the programme not address any of the issues that occur in delays between death and correct documentation being available - sometimes it is not possible to complete the practical body-care as fast as one would like - simply because the registration and/or Doctor's papers haven't been done. This does not excuse lying to families to cover up not having completed the necessary care... 4. Why did the programme not make comparisons with the small end of the funeral market - the Green Funerals, the DIY funerals and the good and the bad end of the independent sector? I have never been one to support the Co-Op funeral service hugely, but as a large provider, they are in a position of somehow having to make provision for what they do... Hubs clearly present huge problems - both logistically and in managing the workforce. Some members of the independent sector will be crowing at the programme, but I would ask them in all honesty to think of the logistics of coping with the huge number of funerals that the Co-Op currently do - and to proffer some sensible, considered input as to resolving the issues raised. It is all very well sitting smugly in a small pristine premises, where everything is perfect and in control, when you only do 5 funerals a week. The big independents and other large groups who do hundreds of funerals a month might be in a position to make suggestions - or to tell us how they manage...if indeed they actually always do manage. I would love to know! I am sad that this programme will have upset and unsettled people who are in a vulnerable state. I am sad that a mortuary has been shown that has not paid attention to ithe sacred task of respecting the dead - who are even more vulnerable than the living. I am sad also, that once again, what I and many of my hard working and passionate collegues stand for has been called into question by - what? A combination of poor workmanship, bad practice  and mismanagement, enhanced by very careful editing. The programmes clear intent seemed to be to find the worst in the Co-Op, and only the Co-Op and to make a sensational point through undercover means. I hope in the long-run that the programme has more positive reprocussions than negative ones...and I leave you there, as a feirce independant, who actually feels a bit sorry for the big guys today. Industry and funerals were never going to be happy partners. Perhaps if fewer of us died per annum it would help!


gloriamundi said...

You seem to me, Antler, to offer an interestingly-balanced view of the programme, and make cogent points. But I personally don't feel that excusing the Co-op because they are big works very well. They make choices for business models and standards of procedure. If they can't manage the logistics, don't centralise, don't generate under-the-counter financial targets by telling staff to hide the cheaper options, etc. It is a business, as we keep being told, but as you know very well, it's also a service.

It's exactly the big guys (in the Coop) I don't feel sorry for. I feel for the same people you do - clients - and also for staff on the ground.

Educating the public and telling the truth is something the Coop is big enough to take on. Why did they not explain about the value and importance of hubs, if they must run them, then they wouldn't have to lie about visits to the chapel? And not telling the truth about embalming, and how rarely it is actually essential, is unforgivable, surely?

But maybe, if we didn't tend to wander about thinking we'll live for ever, and shying away from discussing the end of life and informing ourselves, maybe if we were grown-up and open about mortality in our society, the Coop wouldn't have descended, in some places and sometimes only, I'm sure, to the sort of things we saw.

Antler said...

I would never condone lying to a client - or condone any of the totally horrible practices that were shown in the film. We need to turn the whole industry - or business around and weed out malpractice and poor staff training and management. This has to be done throughout - regulation and qualification, licencing and inspection - not only for the Coop, but on an even playing field. Then the people who come to arrange funerals will have a little more peace of mind that the service they are getting is transparent.

It needs to happen in the 'independent sector' as well as the 'industrial sector'.

I hated what I saw with a passion, but we can't just sit and rub our hands and say "That's not what we do at our premises"...

We need to ask the difficult questions and weed out the poor behaviour and terrible staff training, conditions and pressures - wherever they are manifesting.

How we can end the days of industrial funerals I don't know, but we need to look at the way all of the large amalgamated FDs are operating... and we need to educate people as to what the logistics actually are - openly and honestly. As you pont out - we are first and foremost providing a service.

Service should start with love and compassion... I just thank God I was able to look after all my family personally - I would be mortified to think they had been taken to a Hub of any description...