The NHS has always boasted of caring for people from cradle to grave - but cremation is clearly different. None of us is at our best at a time of bereavement - we're certainly not looking at the small print. So I share LibDem MP Norman Lamb's astonishment that doctors working in hospitals earned almost £15m last year in so called ‘ash cash’ payments made by grieving families. The payment is made to doctors to sign a form releasing a body for cremation.
In our West Hertfordshire Hospital Trust area, families paid out £148,218 in 2008/9 alone to get their deceased loved ones’ bodies released for cremation. It may be "a long established practice" but but it's hard to justify taking money off grieving relatives when this involves nothing beyond most doctors normal working hours. Two separate doctors have to sign forms and get paid £73-50 for each one. Because the undertaker normally pays and then includes the fee in his overall charges, the practice is not very visible but that does not make it any more palatable. "Ash cash" is a Dickensian relic of past times and the Government should take action to put an end to this unjustifiable practice as soon as possible. PS Norman Lamb is coming to St Albans this week to speak at a public meeting on the future of the NHS. For details see my previous blog entry