Family to return ashes after body mix-up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2007, 12:00am

The family who was given the wrong body by the Prince of Wales Hospital has agreed in principle to return the ashes of the 88-year-old man to his relatives. Meanwhile, the hospital has promised to bear all costs caused by the mix-up.

The 88-year-old's family was shocked to find his body missing when they tried to claim it on Wednesday.

It was discovered that the body had been mistaken for that of a 77-year-old man and had already been cremated.

The bodies had been placed in the same mortuary compartment because of a lack of space.

A hospital spokeswoman said the family of the 77-year-old man had identified his body after the blunder was discovered, but the body had not been released yesterday.

Despite reports that the wife of the 77-year-old was hesitating about handing over the ashes, the spokeswoman said the family had agreed in principle to return the ashes.

Prince of Wales Hospital chief executive Fung Hong said the hospital would pay all costs incurred because of the blunder and would arrange for the families to claim the ashes and body as soon as possible.

In a similar mix-up in Fu Shan public mortuary last year, the Department of Health offered an ex gratia payment of HK$50,000 to each of the families affected.

Dr Fung yesterday briefed a group of Sha Tin district councillors on the mortuary facilities and the identification procedures.

District council chairman Wai Kwok-hung said councillors had requested that the hospital improve monitoring of frontline staff and provide more training.

The 10 councillors also urged the hospital to computerise the identification system as soon as possible. 'The body labels are very small. The information is handwritten, which may not be very clear sometimes. We think there is an urgent need to introduce an electronic system for identification to prevent similar incidents in the future,' Mr Wai said.

The councillors said they understood that the hospital might have to put two bodies in one compartment when the mortuary was full, but suggested that it should be with a body of the same sex out of respect for the dead.

Dr Fung said the hospital would consider seeking a family's consent before putting a body with another in one compartment in the future.

Yesterday, the mortuary, which has 56 compartments, had 86 bodies, which meant that 30 compartments contained two bodies.

Earlier this week, Dr Fung said that on average, a body stayed in the mortuary for 16 days before it was claimed, four days more than the average in 2004, pushing the mortuary over its capacity.

However, he said the hospital would not set a time limit because it was understandable that grieving families faced difficulties in arranging a funeral.