Hospital bosses have apologised to a grieving family over errors which could have jeopardised the funeral of a grandmother.
Jean Costello died at South Tyneside District Hospital after suffering a brain haemorrhage in the early hours of last Wednesday.
The 74-year-old mother-of-three was taken to the mortuary at the hospital, where she remained until yesterday afternoon.
Her family say a catalogue of hospital errors meant she couldn’t be taken to a chapel of rest, and her funeral was also thrown into doubt after vital paperwork to allow the service to go ahead wasn’t completed until yesterday.
Mrs Costello’s son, Keith, said: “There has been a catalogue of errors from the start. None of us has had the chance to grieve properly, as we have been too busy fighting with the hospital to get things done.
“Since mam died, it’s just been one thing after another. My dad has hit rock bottom, and this hasn’t helped at all.
“To make things worse, we knew we had to get certain paperwork to the crematorium by 10am today so the funeral could go ahead – paperwork that only arrived yesterday afternoon.”
The family were keen to have Mrs Costello transferred to the chapel of rest as soon as they could to allow her daughter, also called Jean, to visit her.
The 46-year-old couldn’t bring herself to visit the mortuary at the hospital as it brought back too many memories of having to identify her son, Stephen Heslop, who died on Boxing Day 2007.
Today, hospital bosses have apologised to the family and say they will be “reviewing our system to ensure that we learn from this”.
Ms Costello said: “My mam was in the same room as Stephen had been, and I just couldn’t bring myself to go to see her. My sister was the same.
“It was just bringing back too many memories.
“It’s been absolutely heartbreaking. A mortuary is not a place to go to visit loved ones a mortuary is a place you got to, to identify a body.
“I haven’t seen my mam since she died. My sister, who has travelled from Portugal, hasn’t been able to see her either.”
The family’s problems began after Mrs Costello’s death last Wednesday.
They were told her death certificate would be ready for them to pick up on Good Friday, but the envelope they were handed also contained doctor’s notes taken on the night Mrs Costello, from Druridge Crescent, South Shields, died and a crematorium authorisation form.
The family should not have seen these, and a pink form needed by the undertaker’s to enable them to collect Mrs Costello from the hospital was missing.
Mr Costello said: “It was horrendous finding the doctor’s notes.
“They told you there was no pulse, no heartbeat and what checks had been carried out
“A courier was round within 20 minutes of me calling them to pick them up. He also handed me the pink form I needed to pass onto the funeral parlour.”
The family say staff who had been due to take Mr Costello and his father, Vincent, to the mortuary on Good Friday and Easter Sunday also turned up late.
The family thought everything was finally sorted on Tuesday, but when they contacted the undertaker’s yesterday to see Mrs Costello, they were told the hospital hadn’t been in touch and she was still in the mortuary.
Mr Costello said: “The hospital said they had lost my mam’s file but had found it and it was getting signed by a consultant so she could be moved. This has been a mess from start to finish.
“We even had trouble at the Register Office, as the registrar couldn’t understand what the doctor had written. It took her ages to get to the bottom of it.
“It was devastating enough losing my mam for the whole family without all this added on top of it.”
Ian Frame, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s executive director, personnel and development, said: “We are very sorry for the distress and inconvenience caused for Mrs Costello’s family, and offer our sincere apologies and condolences.
“Unfortunately, the doctor who issued the certificate did make some errors, which needed to be corrected, but he was on leave for the holiday period and unable to be contacted.
“There are strict legal requirements as to who can complete these certificates and this has led to unacceptable delays, for which we have apologised.
“We recognise that a number of areas could be improved upon to prevent this from happening in future, and we will be reviewing our systems to ensure that we learn from this.”
A service for Mrs Costello, who worked in the Busways canteen in Chichester, South Shields, will be held tomorrow at South Shields Crematorium at 11am followed by a wake at the Cleadon Club in Fulwell Avenue.
Mrs Costello is survived by husband Vincent, son Keith, daughters Jean Costello and Karen Sousa.
MS Costello’s son, Stephen Heslop, died on Boxing Day 2007 after he drove a car off the cliffs at Marsden.
The 22-year-old had earlier been turned away by staff at the Bede Wing, which is based in the grounds of South Tyneside District Hospital, just hours before his death after passing a “self-harm” test.
Ms Costello later proved the assessment carried out on her son was wrong.
She said: “The mortuary room just brough back too many memories. I just couldn’t bring myself to go to see her there
“That’s why we wanted her taken to a chapel of rest as soon as possible.”
She added: “I just don’t think this is something these people understand when they make mistakes. It feels like they just see us as a number but we are real people who have emotions.
“We have been sat crying thinking about out mam in the mortuary.
“We should have been allowed to grieve but instead we have been fighting the system to get things done the right way. We shouldn’t have had to do that.”