Paul Cuthell: Obesity crisis leading to challenges for funeral directors

Funeral directors are finding that they need to order increasing numbers of larger coffins each year. Picture: PA
Funeral directors are finding that they need to order increasing numbers of larger coffins each year. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

Dealing with overweight people requires specialist equipment, says Paul Cuthell

There is an issue in Scotland about the growing rates of obesity, and it stands to reason that of course funeral directors are looking at ways of making extra provision to meet the challenges of burying and cremating larger people.

It was reported recently that there has been a 143 per cent increase in the number of severely overweight patients requiring ambulance treatment - up from around 7,000 in 2010 to more than 17,000 last year – requiring the ambulance service to invest £3.5 million in new, specialist equipment to allow them to move patients weighing up to 70 stone.

Funeral Directors across Scotland are making similar provisions for this increase in obesity to ensure that all clients, and their families, are cared for with respect and treated with dignity.

Significant investment is being made in equipment such as rise and fall decks in funeral vehicles, bariatric stretchers, larger-size mortuary refrigerators, appropriate training for staff and dedicated lifting equipment.

Funeral directors are finding that they need to order increasing numbers of larger coffins each year as the numbers of obese persons passing away continues to increase. Our members are reporting that where once larger coffins would be an anomaly, they are now regularly replenishing stock.

This is an issue across the sector and one which affects many involved in end-of-life, from emergency services and hospitals, through to crematoria and those responsible for graveyards.

Across the board however, the sector as a whole is working hard to help.

Funeral directors try to adhere to a family’s every wish, but sometimes logistically it is difficult as crematoria were built when people were generally smaller. However, our members are seeing investment by some local authorities in Scotland in larger cremators and catafalques at crematoria.

Families do generally understand that if their loved one is obese then the funeral service might have to be done in a slightly different way to tradition. The key is to protect and help them at every step, and to remain respectful and tactful all the time.

For example, tradition in Scotland is for members of the family to lower the coffin into the ground using cords which are attached to the handles of the coffin. However, with a larger coffin this may not be possible or advisable and so our members talk gently through the alternatives, with some ofthe families understanding that in exceptional circumstances that the coffin may have to be lowered into the ground prior to their arrival, either using a hoist or by a larger team from the funeral firm.

As well as investing in equipment, this also involves a conservable amount of training staff to be able to cope physically and logistically, particularly if it involves removing a person from a house.

Paul Cuthell is the immediate past president of the National Association of Funeral Directors