Wrong body cremated after mortuary mix-up

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Legal action was launched today by the family of a 95-year-old woman whose body was cremated by mistake following a mix-up at a hospital mortuary.

Marion Greenwood's dying wish was to be buried in a plot with her husband and son, but only her ashes now remain after the wrong body was released by staff at Tameside General Hospital.

The widow lived in a nursing home in Ashton under Lyne before she was taken to the hospital and died on 11 January.

The family's funeral director arrived days later to collect the body ahead of a burial service, only to be informed that it had already been sent to a crematorium.

Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust issued an "unreserved apology" as it suspended a member of staff. It did not disclose what happened to the other body involved in the blunder.

Sharon Williams, from solicitors Irwin Mitchell, said: "The family of Marion Greenwood has instructed clinical negligence experts Irwin Mitchell to launch a full investigation into this terrible tragedy.

"Marion was very much a family person who wanted to be buried in a plot with her husband and son. That will never happen now and her family have been devastated by this. They are trying to come to terms with what has happened and have asked to be left alone during this sad time.

"This is a tragic case and we need to make sure that Marion's family receive the answers they deserve and to ensure lessons are learned so that no other family has to suffer in this way."

In a statement, the health trust said: "The Trust is looking into a recent incident in which the wrong deceased patient was released from its mortuary to funeral directors.

"This is the first time an incident of this type has occurred at the hospital.

"Tameside Hospital offers unreserved apologies to the families of the deceased patients involved.

"This incident occurred in spite of the fact that mortuary procedures at the hospital conform to nationally defined standards, have recently been overhauled and are subject to periodic audit.

"Once the Trust became aware of this incident, it acted immediately. Initial investigations identified a failure to follow the identification protocol within the mortuary at the time the funeral director collected the body of the deceased patient. These procedures are nationally recognised.

"A full investigation is proceeding and a member of staff has been suspended.

"A member of the Trust Board has visited the families at home to apologise personally.

"Tameside Hospital offers unreserved apologies to the families of the deceased patients involved.

Dr Shaun Griffin, spokesperson for the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) said: "The HTA has been notified of this incident and we have requested a copy of the hospital's investigation report and details of any changes to procedures that result. This will help us determine whether further action needs to be taken.

"The HTA sets standards that mortuaries must meet in order to protect the dignity of the deceased and the interests of the bereaved. These include the requirement to have effective systems, procedures and working practices.

"An incident like this has the potential to cause significant distress to those involved. We will need to assure ourselves that all possible steps are being taken to prevent a similar incident happening again."