On 1st February 2022, Lindesay Mace from Down to Earth showcased the findings of the 2021 research study on public health funerals to a gathering of over 40 representatives from various local authorities. The research, conducted between 2020 and 2021, involved anonymous calls to 27 local authorities and an examination of 40 local authority websites to understand the provision of public health funeral services. This study aimed to shed light on the experiences of individuals seeking public health funeral services through their local councils, as mandated by The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which obliges local authorities to arrange a public health funeral when no other arrangements have been or are being made for the disposal of a body.

The findings from the research raised significant concerns:

  • A mystery shopper exercise targeting 27 local authorities revealed that 10 were not meeting their legal obligations concerning public health funerals, turning away individuals unable to afford funeral costs and in need of council assistance.
  • An analysis of 40 local authority websites showed that a majority, at least 65%, were not in compliance with the government’s guidelines on public health funerals. Of these, 14 websites provided no information whatsoever on the subject, while 12 out of the 26 that did offer some information failed to include contact details for people needing to inform the local authority about a death requiring a public health funeral.
  • Over half of the websites that did provide information on public health funerals contained incorrect or misleading details, with one-third inaccurately presenting the conditions under which one could qualify for such a funeral.

The Quality Services Association stated: “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.”

These key characteristics are vital for ensuring fair access and treatment:

  • The process of learning about public health funerals, accessing them, and understanding what they entail should be straightforward for the bereaved and their supporters.
  • Self-referral for a public health funeral by the bereaved should be possible.
  • A funeral service should be organised, with mourners allowed to attend without restrictions.
  • Relatives of the deceased should be granted free access to the ashes following cremation.
  • Throughout the grieving process, it’s imperative to treat the bereaved with respect and compassion.

The Bereavement Services Forum, facilitated by Estate Research on Tuesday, saw participation from local authority employees tasked with providing public health funerals across the country. Lindesay Mace from Down to Earth took this opportunity to present the report’s findings and discuss the collaboration with several local authorities to enhance their public health funeral services and the information available on their websites. This partnership has led to the development of web pages in instances where none existed previously. The original publication can be read here.

Following Lindesay’s presentation, the delegates delved into the challenges and considerations highlighted, particularly the importance of adhering to government guidance on accepting self-referrals and the complexities of delivering public health funeral services within constrained budgets.

Enhancing Clarity and Accessibility in Public Health Funeral Services

The insights provided by the QSA underscore the pressing need for greater clarity and accessibility in public health funeral services, aligning with the broader challenges faced by the sector.

The Imperative for Improved Clarity and Accessibility

The gaps identified by the QSA in the presentation and accessibility of information on public health funerals underscore the need for action, not only to fulfil legal requirements but also to ensure the bereaved are treated with the dignity and support they deserve.

Strategies to Increase Clarity

Establishing transparent guidelines and harnessing technology for more effective information distribution are crucial steps forward. For example, the creation of dedicated online platforms and digital resources can markedly improve information accessibility, simplifying the process for individuals.

Advancing Accessibility in Public Health Funeral Services

To further enhance accessibility, training for staff on sensitivity in dealings with the bereaved is essential. Adding more personalised aspects to the services offered could also significantly elevate the quality of these services.

The challenges highlighted in the QSA’s report, such as misinformation and accessibility issues, underline the importance of these strategies. Fulfilling legal responsibilities involves more than just the provision of services; it’s about ensuring these services are delivered with dignity and respect.