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!