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Doctors 'making thousands' out of cremation form

PUBLISHED: 10:12 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 09:06 01 August 2010

Dan Grimmer

Doctors at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital charged more than £110,000 last year to grieving families in return for filling out forms to allow the release of dead relatives for cremation.

Dan Grimmer

Doctors at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital charged more than £110,000 last year to grieving families in return for filling out forms to allow the release of dead relatives for cremation.

Payments of £73.50 a time are charged by doctors to a funeral director before a body is released and the money is given back to doctors at the hospital.

The figures were unveiled by the Liberal Democrats through a Freedom of Information Act request which showed almost £15m was made in cremation payments in the UK last year.

More than £109,000 was taken by doctors at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston and £90,000 from the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “This is a well established practice but you really can't justify taking money off grieving relatives when this involves nothing beyond most doctors normal working hours.

“People are at their most vulnerable after the death of a loved one and the last thing they need is these extra charges.

“The NHS is meant to care for people from the cradle to grave but these charges undermine that principle. The government must take action to put an end to this practice as soon as possible.”

Before a deceased person can be cremated, two certificates stating the cause of death have to be signed, one by the doctor who attended the deceased before death, and the other by a doctor of at least five years practice.

Usually the undertaker arranges for the certificates to be signed and pays a fee, known as “ash cash”, to the two doctors. The amount of the fee is then included in the charge which the undertaker makes to the deceased person's estate. Doctors currently receive £73.50 for each cremation form they sign - which takes about 10 minutes - on top of their NHS salaries.

The British Medical Association has called for the centralisation of fees paid to doctors for death certification calling the payments “another level of bureaucracy for families at a difficult and emotional time”

A spokesman for the N&N said: “This process of certification for cremation is not considered part of a doctor's NHS duties and the fees are not charged by NHS hospitals.

“Normally the fees are charged by the certifying doctor to the funeral director, who generally passes on the cost to the family.

“Legally, a deceased person cannot be cremated until the cause of death is known and recorded by two doctors. They must also confirm that the deceased had not been fitted with a pacemaker, which could explode during the cremation process.”

A spokesman for James Paget University Hospital said: “Doctors are entitled to receive these payments in line with agreed national guidance.”

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