QSA Sheds Light on Public Health Funeral Issues at Local Authority Conference

QSA Sheds Light on Public Health Funeral Issues at Local Authority Conference

On the 1st of February, 2022, Lindesay Mace of Down to Earth shared insights from their 2021 study on public health funerals with more than 40 representatives from local authorities. This research involved anonymous inquiries to 27 local authorities and an assessment of the public health funeral information provided on 40 local authority websites, aiming to understand the public’s experience in accessing these services. Local authorities are required to arrange public health funerals when it appears no other arrangements have been made for the disposal of a body, as stipulated by The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

The research outcomes were concerning:

  • A ‘mystery shopping’ activity carried out with 27 local authorities found that 10 were not adhering to their statutory duties regarding public health funerals, leaving individuals who were unable to afford funeral costs without the necessary support from their council.
  • The evaluation of 40 local authority websites indicated that at least 65% were not complying with the governmental guidelines on public health funerals. Of these, 14 had no information on the subject, and 12 of the remaining 26 failed to provide contact details for those needing to report a death that requires a public health funeral.
  • Over half of the sites that did offer information on public health funerals had incorrect or misleading content, with a third incorrectly depicting the eligibility criteria for such a funeral.

The Quality Services Association expressed: “We are happy to have received an invitation to speak at an event on Tuesday, February 1st. This is part of our ongoing efforts at QSA to raise awareness about the issues highlighted in our report and promote five key characteristics that we believe are crucial for ensuring appropriate access and treatment for individuals who require a public health funeral for their loved ones. The Churches’ Funeral Group has agreed upon these five characteristics as part of its minimum standards recommendations.”

The five essential characteristics for fair access and treatment are:

  • The bereaved and their supporters should find it straightforward to discover information about public health funerals, how to access them, and what they involve.
  • The bereaved should have the option to self-refer for a public health funeral.
  • A funeral service should be arranged, with no restrictions on mourner attendance.
  • The deceased’s family should be allowed free access to the ashes following cremation.
  • It is crucial to treat the bereaved with respect and compassion throughout their time of grief.

The Bereavement Services Forum, convened by Estate Research on Tuesday, saw attendance from local authority personnel responsible for public health funerals across the nation. During this forum, Lindesay Mace from Down to Earth presented the findings of their report and discussed the cooperative efforts with various local authorities to enhance the provision of public health funeral services and the related information on their websites. This collaboration has led to the establishment of new web pages in cases where none previously existed. The original publication can be read here.

Post-presentation, attendees engaged in discussions around the issues identified, particularly the necessity of adhering to government guidelines on accepting public self-referrals and the difficulties in offering public health funeral services within tight budget constraints.

Promoting Better Understanding and Access to Public Health Funeral Services

The revelations from the QSA highlight an urgent need for improved clarity and access within public health funeral services, echoing broader sector-wide challenges.

The Urgency for Improved Clarity and Access

The QSA’s findings on the communication and accessibility gaps in information about public health funerals highlight a critical area for improvement, essential for fulfilling legal requirements and ensuring the bereaved are accorded the support and respect they merit.

Approaches to Enhance Clarity

Formulating explicit guidelines and utilising technology for superior information sharing are vital strides towards improvement. Initiatives like dedicated web portals and digital tools can significantly ease information access, simplifying navigation for users.

Elevating Access in Public Health Funeral Services

Increasing access also means training staff in empathetic interaction with the bereaved and considering the incorporation of more bespoke elements into the services, thereby enhancing the overall service quality.

The challenges identified in the QSA’s report, such as inaccurate information and issues with service accessibility, stress the importance of these measures. Meeting legal requirements goes beyond mere service provision; it encompasses delivering these services with dignity and respect.