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New guidance released by Public Health England – and the challenges faced by funeral directors

The NAFD was pleased that Public Health England released guidance (31 April 2020), on handling deceased people suspected or confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19, which touched on the work of funeral directors. We are working to pull together all of the advice that is most critical to funeral directors in the document and liaise with Public Health England to clarify some key questions that still remain. This is to ensure funeral directors do not have to ‘join the dots’ between all of the source material signposted in the guidance to be aware of all of the relevant information.

As a society, the choice to be there in person to witness the burial or cremation of a loved one remains an important part of the grief journey. The Government is clear that they want funerals to continue, even if only on a restricted basis – and that is why funerals are the only gathering currently permitted by the government.

Funeral directors remain absolutely committed to supporting all bereaved people at this very difficult time, but are rightly concerned about increasing the risk of infection to both at-risk groups of mourners and to employees. Like supermarket workers and other essential services, they have a vitally important and sensitive job to do and so it is critical they are able to do it safely by being able to stay within the social distancing rules. The majority of bereaved families are doing their best to adapt their expectations and plans in line with the advice that funeral directors are giving them, despite the obvious distress this is causing them and we are so grateful to them for this.

However, ensuring that funerals remain within the social distancing guidelines is a responsibility we all share. We need the public to support funeral directors in their important work by limiting numbers to the smallest group possible, being honest with funeral directors about their level of exposure to COVID-19 and making sure additional mourners are not invited to come on the day. We know this is incredibly hard, but it is absolutely critical that key workers aren’t put at risk while trying to carry out the Government’s instructions.

We also appreciate that the interpretation of the guidance by funeral service venues varies significantly from area to area, which can be confusing and upsetting for families. We are working closely with colleagues in the cemetery and crematorium representative bodies to try and achieve greater consistency and understanding.

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