Anger as doctors pocket £142 for every cremation

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By Michael MacLeod

SCOTTISH doctors have pocketed an estimated £1.5 million by charging grieving families to have cremation certificates signed.

The £71 so-called “ash cash” charge allows a deceased person’s body to be released for cremation.

Both GPs and hospital doctors each charge for the form-filling exercise, leaving the deceased person’s relatives to fork out £142.

But most mourning families have no idea they are paying the fee, which doctors could choose to waive if they wanted to, as it is often charged to the funeral director who buries it among the final bill.

Debate set for Holyrood

Scottish politicians have angrily rounded on the practice as “disgraceful” and called on Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon to intervene.

The cremation sign-off is a simple safety check of health records that, for example, whether the deceased is fitted with a pace-maker, which would rule out reducing the body to ashes.

Last year in England doctors made £14.7 million from filling out the forms.

One unnamed junior doctor told a weekend report that the payment was “the house officer’s privilege and the fund for Thursday night drinks all over the country.”

Payouts on the rise

Of Scotland’s 14 health boards, only three had the relevant figures for their areas.

Doctors working for NHS Borders earned £33,516 between 2008 and 2009 for signing cremation forms, a rise of £2,259 on the previous period.

At NHS Lanarkshire, one of Scotland’s largest health boards, doctors pocketed £127,742 in 2009 for cremation form-filling.

And in NHS Grampian, grieving families paid at least £126,806 between them to have doctors sign the forms in 2008-09, a figure excluding the amount received by GPs.

Based on the population served by these three health boards, it is estimated that doctors across Scotland receive between £1.2m to £1.5m a year in “ash cash.”

Questions are now set to be raised at Holyrood over the cremation cash-in.

The SNP’s Glasgow MSP Bill Kidd said: “I think doctors charging this amount for signing cremation forms is disgraceful.

“These fees will damage the standing doctors have in society, and I will be writing to Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.”

His concerns were echoed by Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie.

“A considerable sum”

She said: “It strikes me that £142 is a considerable sum to pay to get two signatures from doctors.

“I will be asking parliamentary questions about this matter.”

The British Medical Association said the fee could be “distressing” for mourning families.

A spokesperson said: “We understand that it can be distressing for relatives to have to pay a fee when they’re already coping with the loss of a loved one.

“The cremation certification process needs to be carried out thoroughly and professionally, which takes time.

“It’s not part of a doctor’s normal NHS work and so it is not remunerable by the NHS.

“The system has recently been reviewed and proposals have been made to Scottish Ministers.

“It is likely that the current arrangements will change significantly once a decision has been taken on these recommendations.”

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