To kick off ‘a day in the life of at King’s’ we’re going to show you one of the less talked about areas of a hospital… the mortuary.
This week we (the communications team) spent the day with Amy Ellis, Mortuary Manager at King’s, to find out more about what happens in a mortuary, what her job involves and why she chose to work there.
Amy loved the idea of being shadowed for the day. She said, “There is a bit of a stigma around mortuaries and death is something that people don’t really like to talk about.”
Amy has been at King’s for 12 years and first decided that she wanted to be an anatomical pathology technologist or APT (the official name for someone who works in a mortuary) while studying science at school and witnessing a post mortem (PM). She went on to study forensics at university – although she tells us that this isn’t actually needed for the role (more on that later!).
The mortuary itself is bright and airy and the PM room looks like any other theatre, although there is a viewing area where trainee pathologists can observe PMs. Amy shows us the fridges where deceased patients are kept – they don’t look scary or morbid. On each fridge is the name of the patient, their date of their death, and the name of their ward. Amy says they refer to the deceased as patients and added that there is a significant caring aspect to her job. She ensures the patients are always treated with dignity and respect.
During a PM it’s the APT’s job to remove the organs (evisceration), weigh them, and carrying out any cleaning up that might be required. “There are strict guidelines around how incisions are made when a post mortem is carried out,” said Amy.“They have to be a certain size and are made in such a way that they’re completely coverable when a patient is dressed.”
The APTs make sure that the patients look presentable when the PM is complete, even washing their hair. Amy explains that it’s their job to make sure patients look good – it’s more of a caring role than people realise! “We look after patients from the moment they come in to the moment they leave,” she said.
Amy talked us through an average day in the mortuary and what all the protocols are. Amy and her team (Holly, Emelia and Rob) start at 8am and their first job is to check the death notices from the previous night and write a list for the bereavement team. If any patients have died in the hospital overnight they are taken down to the mortuary by porters who are trained to transfer the patient to a fridge and record their name, the date they died, and the ward they were on. These details will also be double checked against the death notice. Next, the APTs double check the details of every patient and measure their height so the correct-sized coffin can be ordered. PMs usually begin at about 8.30am and take around 1.5 hours. However, the APTs could be cleaning all afternoon. Amy explains that much of the day is taken up with paper work, checking patient details and making sure everything is recorded properly.
The team is made up of four people, Amy, Holly who is a qualified APT and Emelia and Rob who are training. To become an APT you need to complete a Level 3 diploma and work for a year in a trainee position. It’s become a really competitive role to get into! Amy explains that part of their job is to lay patients out so loved ones can visit them. The mortuary records all deaths that happen in the hospital and the records go back for many years. Around 120 patients come into the mortuary every month, with about 10 – 15 PMs taking place. The team in the mortuary have close links to the Dying Matters events held at King’s and speak to people about what happens when a patient dies.
While we were visiting the funeral directors arrived to collect a patient. They travel in a private ambulance ensure discretion and park far from the main patient areas. Due to confidentiality, there are strict rules around who can see the deceased uncovered. In addition, Amy and her team always check whether people are happy to see a covered deceased patient or not.
Amy said: “I really enjoy my job and still find it so interesting, I’m always learning and get to speak to colleagues from other hospitals about new ideas.”