After the Mortonhall scandal, Fife reassures local families of a very different arrangement here ...
Reassurances have been given to bereaved parents in Fife by staff at Kirkcaldy crematorium that the best possibly care is taken of their babies.
Strict procedures on the way babies of all ages are dealt with are in place and staff are all given in depth training on dealing with them.
Infant cremation has come under the media spotlight following the recent publication of the Mortonhall Investigation Report, commissioned by the City of Edinburgh Council after concerns were raised about practices at Mortonhall Crematorium.
Its remit was to establish the facts regarding infant cremations at the crematorium and to learn lessons that would help ensure best practice for the future.
The next step will be a report from Lord Bonomy’s Infant Cremation Commission examining the policies, practice and legislation related to the cremation of infants in Scotland, and the commission is now considering the Mortonhall findings to help inform its report which is expected to be published by the Scottish Government by the end June.
And staff at both Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline Crematoria say the findings will be studied in detail and any possible improvements in procedures will be taken.
The Cremation (Scotland) Regulations 1935 regulate the provision of crematoria in Scotland, with specific provision for the cremation of a stillborn child, born after 24 weeks gestation. In such instances the baby is treated as a normal birth and death would be.
Any baby born before 24 weeks is classed as a “non-viable foetus” (NVF).
There are no laws governing the disposal of foetal remains, and this has been highlighted in the Mortonhall report and referred to the Infant Cremation Commission for consideration.
Everything done to help families
Fife Council’s policies have been in place since 2001, and were developed working alongside NHS Fife and SANDS (Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Society) to ensure that infants who have died during 12 to 24 weeks gestation are brought to one of the crematoria for individual cremation.
Older infants, or those who have been born, breathed and died at any time during pregnancy, are covered by this legislation and funeral arrangements are made in the normal way.
Liz Murphy, bereavement services manager in Kirkcaldy, said that in cases where any baby has died, crematorium staff would do their best to meet the wishes of parents.
She explained: “We will explain the various options which are open to them in such instances, from leaving it to ourselves to scatter any ashes in our special Garden of Remembrance at Kirkcaldy Crematorium to having a small private ceremony here, or a full service if that is what they wish.
“In cases where babies have been born before 24 weeks it is not always possible for any ashes to be obtained, and this would be explained to them at the hospital, but they can still spend some time in our chapel before the cremation.”
In the majority of cases, no cremated remains are obtained of an early stage foetus as the remains are essentially soft tissue.
The potential for securing ashes increases as the length of gestation increases, although the retrieval of cremated remains cannot be guaranteed.
If there are ashes, these will be offered to the family or funeral director or, if requested, can be scattered in the specially-designated baby areas within the Gardens of Remembrance at Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline Crematoria.
The cremators used in Fife have been designed for adult cremations, but William Greig, bereavement services officer with Fife Council, said the whole system for babies or infants was different.
“The whole process is gentler, and, wherever possible, we will try to get some ashes for the family,” he said.
The process continues to be closely monitored and the use a special cremation tray for foetal and infant remains has recently been re-introduced to try to help improve the chances of ashes being retrieved.
Due to the concerns highlighted in the Mortonhall report - and anticipating what may emerge from the Infant Cremation Commission - a review of the paper trail between bereavement services, NHS Fife, funeral directors and families is in hand.
Managers from Fife Council are involved in discussions with other local authority and private crematoria operators to review and, where appropriate, improve current working practices.
Liz Murphy added: “Lord Bonomy’s report is expected to make a number of recommendation, some of which might require legislative change and the issuing of new national guidance.
‘‘There may be other changes relating to how infant cremations are managed, performed and recorded in the future.
“These will be considered carefully including any changes we might need to make to the current arrangements in Fife.”
Working closely together
A spokesman for Fife Stillbirth and Neo-natal Death Society (SANDS), said: “We have a very good working relationship with Kirkcaldy crematorium and NHS Fife .
‘‘As far as we are aware there have never been any issues with any babies cremated in Fife.
“We will continue to work with everyone involved to see if, following the report which is beinwwg published, there are any improvements which can be made.’’