Temporary mortuary re-opened as winter deaths rise in Northamptonshire

Volunteer firefighters switch to driving ambulances to ease pressure on NHS

By Kevin Nicholls
Thursday, 21st January 2021, 11:49 am
Updated Thursday, 21st January 2021, 2:23 pm

A temporary mortuary has been reopened to cope with a rise in deaths involving coronavirus and other winter illnesses in Northamptonshire.

Firefighters are being deployed as emergency ambulance drivers and helping with transfers from hospitals following the increase in mortality among hospital patients.

The Leys was built on the site of a former council rubbish tip near Wellingborough last April ahead of an expected increase in fatalities during the first wave of the pandemic.

The facility was stood down as pressures eased in the summer and autumn but reopened just before Christmas.

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: "The Leys initially opened in April this year to support both our acute hospitals with mortuary capacity during the height of the pandemic.

"The site enabled us to care for loved ones of Northamptonshire residents with sensitivity and dignity.

“As winter is a time when respiratory illnesses increase and this year we have the added burden of Covid-19, the site was opened again from December 1 in order to support the two county hospitals.

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"Reopening The Leys enables us to manage capacity across all three sites and care for the deceased within our county with compassion and respect.

“Wollaston residents were written to ahead of the site reopening, however we would like to take the opportunity to thank them once again for the support and kindness shown this year, which will have brought a lot of comfort to those who lost loved ones.”

Northamptonshire's two main hospitals have so far confirmed 146 Covid-related deaths since January 1, including figures released in the latest NHS England bulletin today (Thursday).

During the first week of January, around a third of all 1,400 registered deaths in the East Midlands NHS region — which includes Northamptonshire — were linked to coronavirus according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.

The region saw 440 Covid deaths compared to 380 which linked to flu and pneumonia.

Director of Public Health Lucy Wightman revealed last week the site is also being used to help neighbouring areas with similar issues over capacity in hospital mortuaries.

Up to four Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service personnel are working at the county's East Midlands Ambulance Service stations daily, carrying out support tasks such as driving Urgent Care vehicles and the safe moving of patients.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, firefighters transferred 452 deceased and they have given up 200 hours to work while carrying out regular NFRS duties — including tackling floods before Christmas.

The county's Chief Fire Officer, Darren Dovey, said: “We are doing everything we can to ensure that what needs to be done to protect the community, is done.

“The firefighters and staff of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service are totally committed to playing our part as needed and stand ready to take on any challenge with pride.”