Investigating mortuary services in hospital settings

Komaromy, Carol and Woodthorpe, Kate (2011). Investigating mortuary services in hospital settings. British Academy.


Changes to the retention of human tissues and Department of Health guidance on good practice have resulted in the extension of the role of Anatomical Pathology Technologists (APTs).
In the twenty-first century the APT role demands a wide variety of abilities, including an adroit blend of clinical knowledge and communication skills. The APT role is framed by a blurred occupational past. The need for clarity and a distinct professional identity is one of the driving forces behind the Association of Anatomical Pathology Technologists calls for standardisation of education, training and regulation. Currently, there are two qualifications for APTs provided through the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH): the Certificate in Anatomical Pathology Technology and the Diploma in Anatomical Pathology Technology. These have been developed and accredited by the RSPH since 1962. APTs in teaching hospitals or with high-risk facilities - although not usually part of the formal education process for any clinical staff beyond pathologists - are in a position to establish best practice as they are involved in ‘lifting the lid’ on what goes on in the mortuary. In this hospital, APTs promoted the work of the mortuary by going ‘out’ into the hospital and participating in different forums, including formal and informal meetings. They also invited colleagues into the mortuary. Identifying the deceased person as a patient rather than a body was a highly symbolic effort to ‘join up’ the work of the mortuary with the rest of the hospital, ensuring that the deceased person remained a patient of the hospital until they left the premises. An association with death was a potential barrier to communicating with colleagues outside of the mortuary, as the APTs found themselves stigmatised by what they perceived to be and what would be called sociologically their literal ‘embodiment’ of medical failure. This could be isolating for the APTs, to the point that when they went to other hospital departments, they were treated with caution. There is a strong case to be made for national regulation as part of the professionalisation of the APT role, in order to align individual’s responsibilities with accountability at the level of the regulating professional body itself.

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