A SCOTTISH health board today ordered an urgent investigation after horrified garage staff discovered a corpse in the back of an NHS vehicle taken in for repairs.
The body was discovered by shocked mechanics in the NHS Grampian van - a specialist mortuary vehicle - after it was left for repairs at the AM Phillip commercial vehicle servicing depot in Aberdeen’s Auchmill Road.
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian today confirmed that a member of staff had been suspended while an independent investigation is carried out into the “distressing” discovery.
The spokeswoman said: “This is a very serious incident and we are dealing with it as a matter of urgency.
“We have been in touch with the family of the deceased person and have apologised unreservedly for the distress that this incident has caused them. We have also been in touch with the garage and have apologised for the distress that may have been caused to their staff.”
The spokeswoman continued: “We have very strict processes in place to ensure that we deal sensitively and respectfully with deceased patients. Clearly these did not work on this occasion.
“We have taken immediate action to commission an independent investigation to understand what has gone wrong. Pending this investigation a member of staff has been suspended.”
She added: “We are deeply sorry for this regrettable incident and we are absolutely committed to taking whatever action is required to ensure that this situation can never happen again.”
The van involved is a specialist mortuary vehicle which is only used for transporting bodies to the mortuary at the Foresterhill hospital complex in the city. And it is understood that the van had been driven to the garage on Wednesday for repairs to a taillight.
Councillor Barney Crockett, the leader of Aberdeen City Council leader, said: “It’s very upsetting for the family and a big shock. I am sure the health service will take the appropriate action. “
He added: “It goes without saying that it should never happen. It must have been hard for the staff who came across it. I don’t remember anything of this kind in the past.”
A spokesman for AM Phillip said: “I am sorry but we are making no comment.”
North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “This will obviously be very distressing for the family concerned and very surprising for everyone. I think it is fair to say that our health service staff are usually the first to recognise the sensitivities of these issue and it is all the more disappointing in that context.
“I am certain that the independent enquiry that NHS Grampian has launched will need to be completed as speedily as possible in order to get to the bottom of what has happened here to ensure it can never happen again.”
He said the incident would also place a fresh spotlight on Aberdeen where the city council is already facing criticism in the unfolding scandal surrounding the disposal of babies’ ashes.
Mr Macdonald said: “With the controversy around the ashes of infants post cremation NHS Grampian obviously realise this is a very sensitive issue and one on which they need to look outside their organisation to investigate this matter. I have certainly never heard of anything like this happening before.”
Margaret Watt of the Scottish Patients’ Associationsaid she was “horrified” by the incident.
She declared: “It’s horrendous. It’s incredible that such a thing could have happened. We need to know why the health board’s procedures did not work on this occasion and who was to blame. If the mechanics had not noticed the body it could have been there for days.
“Our hearts go out to the family. It doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s an absolute nightmare and it should never have happened.”
Ms Watt added: “I don’t think an apology is enough for the family. It seems to me that this has been caused by negligence and, if that is the case, we have to change the staff in the NHS. How do we know it hasn’t happened before and nobody said anything.”
Richard Carey, the chief executive of NHS Grampian, said: “We are obviously taking this incident extremely seriously and I have asked for this review to be completed within a week so that we can get to the bottom of exactly what happened and take whatever action is necessary in response. Clearly our systems failed to operate effectively on this occasion and we need to look at what we need to do differently to prevent this from happening again.”
It is understood that the vehicle had been driven to the garage by a hospital porter who was unaware there was a body on board.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “This is clearly completely unacceptable and NHS Grampian has made a full apology to the family, who did not need this distress at an already difficult time.”
He added: “People rightly expect to receive a high level of care and dignity from our NHS and the health board have admitted that it simply wasn’t provided on this occasion.
“I will be keeping a very close this eye on their internal enquiry to make sure nothing like this happens again.”