The coronavirus pandemic has created a hidden crisis for funeral directors who are rapidly running out of protective equipment and space for bodies

The coronavirus pandemic has created a hidden crisis for funeral directors who are rapidly running out of protective equipment and space for bodies
Flickr / Tony Alter
  • A shortage of protective equipment is exposing funeral workers to the risk of catching the coronavirus.
  • Funeral directors tell Business Insider they are having to find their own safety equipment after struggling to get it from the government. One said they had to settle for out-of-date gloves found on Facebook.
  • Workers are also struggling with the demand for refrigeration units and morgue space, putting their cash flow at risk.
  • The UK government is being urged to provide greater protection to funeral directors and their staff.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic is quietly creating a crisis for funeral directors, with workers reporting severe shortages of protective equipment and a major cash flow problem that could put many companies out of business.

With thousands of extra deaths being caused both directly and indirectly by the crisis, many funeral directors have been forced to spend large amounts of money on additional refrigeration units and morgue space for storing the extra bodies caused by the pandemic.

Funeral directors have told Business Insider that they have also been forced to spend increasing amounts on safety equipment for their staff, also known as PPE, and are struggling to secure a sufficient supply.

One funeral director in the south of England told Business Insider that members of their staff had recently resigned to protect themselves from catching the virus, with the owner forced to find their safety equipment on social media.

"My biggest source of PPE has been on Facebook," he told Business Insider this week.


"I've managed to get some out-of-date rubber gloves, which people kindly dropped off. A mate of mine dropped off a bottle of sanitizer," they said, adding that he had also recently spent £350 on masks for his staff.

As well as PPE, many funeral companies are struggling to secure the equipment they need for moving bodies.

He said there were just 18 body bags for the county where his company his based, despite the fact his company had 20 callouts over the recent Easter weekend alone.

While their expenditure has increased, in many cases the money funeral directors have coming in has dropped.

Families of the deceased are struggling to afford funerals due to the virus' impact on their finances, while government restrictions on how many mourners can attend funerals mean companies can only provide basic services.


Terry Tennens, chief executive of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, told Business Insider: "Whilst in recent years there has been a lot of attention paid to funeral costs, counterintuitively the pandemic won't result in a boom for the sector, quite the opposite, in fact."

"The challenge for funeral directors at the moment is that services are completely stripped back and in some areas services in crematoria chapels have been banned altogether. Many are now only able to do direct cremation-type services."

He added: "At the same time, funeral directors are having to hire in temporary mortuary space and buy PPE equipment and this is placing a huge negative strain on company finances, particularly for small and medium-sized firms who are an essential component in the nation's response to coronavirus."

The pressures are being felt right across the industry.

"I ring a few others [funeral directors] and ask how their day has been, and it's the same everywhere else. The pressure is massive," the funeral director in the south of England said.


"My business is 300 years old.

"I want to be here to hand over to be my son. But if things continue this way, perhaps we'll fold like every other business. If we keep paying out, and nothing is coming in, it's very simple maths — you can't survive.

"I'm worried about the financial future of my business, I really am. And if I shut, who will pick up bodies? Who will do funerals?"

UK government urged to protect funeral workers

The coronavirus pandemic has created a hidden crisis for funeral directors who are rapidly running out of protective equipment and space for bodies
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Handout via REUTERS

Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, told Business Insider that Johnson's government must prioritize improving protection for people managing the deceased "as a matter of urgency."

He said: "It is unacceptable that funeral workers are not classed as frontline workers by Ministers and so not prioritized for PPE.


"Many funeral workers are handling the bodies of people who have sadly died of COVID-19, selflessly putting themselves at risk, to keep us all safe."

A UK government spokesperson told Business Insider that it was ministers' "top priority" to ensure workers like those in funeral homes had the protection they needed.

"Ensuring people remain safe from coronavirus at work during this emergency is a top priority for the Government and more than 200,000 units of PPE have been distributed to funeral services and mortuaries to protect staff in line with the clinical need as advised by PHE clinical guidance on PPE," they said.

"PPE is distributed to Local Resilience Forums who are best placed to make local decisions about the onward distribution of the equipment depending on local need."

Johnson's government is under growing pressure to get more PPE to frontline NHS staff amid reports of hospitals not having enough gloves, facemasks, and gowns for treating coronavirus patients.


Ministers are also being urged to make sure more equipment reaches care homes. 54% of carers said they didn't have enough PPE to look after elderly people safely, according to a poll for ITV published this week.

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