Background There is a marked absence of research about the role of hospital mortuaries in palliative care, despite ‘care after death’ being step six in the End of Life Care Strategy (2008). Mortuaries are seen as ‘backstage’ areas and consequently receive little recognition or resource. This paper reports qualitative data from an independent evaluation of the King's Fund programme to enhance Environments for Care at End of Life. As part of the programme teams of hospital staff renovated physical environments in which end of life care was delivered.
Aim To understand the role of hospital mortuaries within end of life care.
Methods This paper presents qualitative data from a subset of three case studies where renovation and refurbishment of mortuary viewing facilities at three UK hospitals took place. At phase one, prior to building work, participants from each hospital took part in a focus group (n=3). At phase two after the renovations had been completed, the same participants took park in individual interviews (n=15).
Findings Three themes were extracted from the data. Mortuaries were ‘hidden from view’, both in terms of their physical location and in the function that they provided. Mortuaries were ‘resource poor’ with a history of underinvestment resulting in staff having to compensate and apologise for the environment in which they worked. There was evidence of ‘untapped potential’ with relatively simple changes to the environment resulting in improved hospital flow and an area in which the deceased could be cared for rather than processed.
Conclusions Mortuaries play a key role in end of life care which is often unrecognised. The authors have constructed an understanding of mortuaries as the ‘blind spot’ within the provision of end of life care.
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