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Covid bereaved say loved ones were treated ‘like toxic waste’ after death

UK was not equipped to deal with Covid deaths, bereaved families tell inquiry as Module 1 concludes

James Harrison
18 July 2023, 1.04pm

A detail from the Covid-19 Memorial Wall opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. Bereaved families told the Covid-19 inquiry their loved ones were treated 'like toxic waste'


Chris J Ratcliffe for Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice/Getty Images

Campaigners have called for pandemic planning to put more focus on dealing with death and bereavement as the first stage of the Covid-19 inquiry prepares to wind up.

The opening module on ‘resilience and preparedness’ has entered its final sessions, after hearing throughout June and July from clinicians, civil servants, ministers and others.

But while evidence so far has focused on issues such as the impact of Brexit and whether the UK had stockpiled enough PPE, the families who lost loved ones spoke today about the realities of attempting to grieve in the middle of a pandemic.

“There were so many things that as a family we accepted at the start because we believed that's what was to happen,” Brenda Doherty, of the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, told the inquiry.

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“We didn’t get mum’s clothing back from the hospital – it was incinerated.

“Thanks to the kindness of a nurse, we got a cross back [but] I’ve heard earlier from other witnesses about how their loved ones were treated.

“I like to pretend mum was in the nightdress that I bought her [for Mothering Sunday].

“But the reality is I know she was double-bagged like toxic waste.”

Groups representing families who lost loved ones to Covid-19 from the four nations of the UK were invited to speak to the inquiry ahead of closing statements and the end of the first module.

Organisers have previously faced criticism over a decision not to call any of the witnesses put forward by Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK.

But the UK-wide group’s co-founder Matt Fowler was among those who spoke on the 22nd day of the inquiry’s public sessions, revealing the organisation grew out of attempts to respond to “quite negative and unpleasant comments” from “Covid deniers” and others commenting on news stories related to the pandemic.

Opening the inquiry last month, chair Heather Hallett promised “those who suffered hardship and loss have and will always be at the very heart of the inquiry”.

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, of the Wales-based Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, revealed her father’s personal items had been returned to her in “a Tesco carrier bag”.

She told the hearing: “We’re very interested to ensure that the at-death and after-death impact of a pandemic are considered as well – end-of-life care, dignity in death, palliative care.

“Being kind of crude, what happens to bodies, something that was not communicated to us, was that once somebody with Covid dies, they are almost treated like toxic waste.

“They are zipped away, you can’t wash them, you can’t dress them, you can’t do any of those things [as well as the normal funeral and the ceremonies].

“That’s something you have to do, to ensure that all of those factors are considered in preparedness, as well as the sort of more practical things.

“My dad did not have a good death. Most of our members’ loved ones did not have a good death.”

The inquiry also heard how deaths had affected people in other ways, such as Jane Morrison, of Scottish Covid Bereaved, who recounted how she had had to return her wife’s guide dog following her death.

Chair Heather Hallett will hear a final day of Module 1 tomorrow before the inquiry breaks, likely until October.

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