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Mum's inquest leaves family shocked

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: October 26, 2012

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A DAUGHTER has urged Cornwall's coroner to ensure people diagnosed with an industrial disease – and their families – are warned that a "distressing" inquest would probably be held after their deaths.

Rose Bailey, of Polvella Close, Newquay, spoke out after suffering the shock of being told a post-mortem examination had to be carried out on her 90-year-old mother, ten days after her death.

She questioned the need for the intrusive examination when her mum, Rose Matilda Clarke, had been largely unaffected by the disease that she contracted as a teenager.

At an inquest on Wednesday, Mrs Bailey urged coroner for Cornwall Dr Emma Carlyon to encourage "better communication" between agencies and families concerning asbestos-related deaths.

Dr Carlyon broadly agreed, saying: "we need to get this right" – although she claimed her office was not at fault for the communications breakdown.

Following the hearing, Mrs Bailey told the Cornish Guardian: "The solace that we took from her [Mrs Clarke's] peaceful passing, seeing her best friend and family in the days before she died, was destroyed by knowing that her remains would be violated by a post-mortem.

"It was not something we had time to come to terms with, and came as a dreadful shock. We had reported her death, had a death certificate and were going ahead with the funeral. This came out of the blue."

Mrs Clarke, of Trerice Drive, died peacefully at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro on Saturday, April 28, with her daughter and granddaughter by her side.

Wednesday's inquest at Truro Coroner's Court found the cause to be pneumonia due to underlying asbestosis – a chronic lung condition which was caused by exposure to asbestos.

Mrs Clarke, who was a heavy smoker for 30 years, was exposed to the asbestos over 12 months between 1938 and 1939 when, then aged 16, she worked at a factory in Barking. She was diagnosed with asbestosis 62 years later, in 2001.

Mrs Bailey was issued with a death certificate on May 2 but the following day was "astonished" to find doctors had refused to release her mother's body to funeral directors.

She said the family had been left in the dark over the four-day bank holiday weekend until Tuesday, May 8, when they were first informed that a post-mortem would be needed.

She immediately challenged the need for the examination on a 90-year-old woman and at 9.02am the next day sent a fax to the coroner's office urging it not to carry out a post-mortem.

However, the office called her back at 2.30pm to say it had already been undertaken, before 9am.

The family was then put through the ordeal of having to identify the body in order for it to be ready in time for the funeral – a process Mrs Bailey said "destroyed" the relief they had that her mother's passing had been peaceful.

"We wanted mum in a Chapel of Rest in Newquay, where we live, not in a hospital morgue," she said.

Dr Carlyon said her office was not at fault and had "turned this around" in 24 hours.

She said asbestosis sufferers were told of the inquest process about the time of diagnosis, although Mrs Bailey said this was not the case with her mother.

"No one is taking the responsibility," she told the inquest. "There needs to be an investigation into what happened. It is not the outcome, it is the process. This should never happen."

Dr Carlyon said she would write to the Bereavment Office and to hospital managers: "We need to get this right; we do not want families having to wait nine to ten days to get on with their funeral; that is not right."

She recorded a verdict that Mrs Clarke died of the industrial disease asbestosis.

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