Members of special body recovery teams tasked with collecting people who have died in their homes after contracting coronavirus have been warned they should not “underestimate how unpleasant this task is going to be”.
Training is taking place for small units of police, fire brigade and health service staff, who have been assembled in an effort to ease pressure on under-strain hospitals and the London Ambulance Service (LAS) during the COVID-19 crisis.
Clad head-to-toe in personal protective equipment (PPE), the teams will attend houses, care homes, and hospices to confirm the death and the identity of the deceased, and support bereaved families before they are taken to a mortuary.
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The Pandemic Multi-Agency Response Teams (Pmart), began work in the capital last week amid projections that around one third of suspected coronavirus deaths could happen outside hospitals.
Metropolitan Police Superintendent Wayne Matthews told them not to “underestimate how unpleasant this task is going to be”.
He said: “This is a very emotionally demanding role.
“What we are asking the officers to do is essentially deal with one fatality, then another and then another.
“So obviously the mental robustness and physical aptitude to be able to do this is why we asked for volunteers, people who felt they were able to do this.”
He added that after dealing with a case, the teams had the option of a “decompression period” to deal with any mental toll.
“The numbers we’re working on are 30% of fatalities in relation to COVID-19 will occur within the community,” Supt. Matthews continued.
“It’s recognised and understood that this is a difficult task, a very challenging task, for our staff and all of the blue light responders who are involved in this so we have been clear that anyone involved will be a volunteer.”
Bereaved families are being asked not to travel to register offices to notify officials of relatives’ deaths, as register offices will contact them by phone.
Families will still choose their own funeral directors to make arrangements for loved ones.
Mr Matthews said detectives on the squads would also assess the scene of deaths for any signs of “suspicious circumstances”.
“We understand people are now socially isolating, people are being held and that can obviously put up instances of domestic abuse,” he said.
“We need to make sure that in any of the mortality we are dealing with there are no suspicious circumstances.”
A total of eight units are operating across the capital at any one time around the clock, made up of a police constable, detective, firefighter and a clinician, volunteers were told.
Where a clinician is not available to confirm the death, LAS staff will be sent to addresses separately.
Firefighter Lisa Barker, 28, said she signed up to help ease pressure on health services and allow them to prioritise emergency cases.
She said: “Everyone’s of the same mindset… we want to serve the people of London in the best capacity we can.
“If you are in a position you can volunteer and be part of a solution to help Londoners, even at the end of their lives, preserve that dignity, everyone’s happy to do that and step up.”