Concern over doctors pocketing 'ash cash'

Doctors at Ipswich Hospital pocketed more than �130,000 in only 12 months by signing a form releasing dead bodies for cremation, it emerged today.

IPSWICH: Doctors at Ipswich Hospital pocketed more than �130,000 in only 12 months by signing a form releasing dead bodies for cremation, it emerged today.

The payment is made by grieving families to doctors when they sign the form, which is a legal requirement.

At the Heath Road hospital, doctors earned a total of �133,480 for checking and signing the forms in 2008/09.

Before a deceased person can be cremated, two certificates stating the cause of death have to be signed - one by the doctor who attended the deceased before death and the other by an independent doctor.

Normally the undertaker arranges for the certificates to be signed and pays a fee to the two doctors. The amount of the fee is then included in the charge which the undertaker makes to the deceased person's estate.

Doctors currently receive �73.50 for each cremation form they sign on top of their NHS salaries.

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A Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats revealed that nationwide, doctors earned �15million for completing the forms in 2008/09.

Known among medics as “ash cash”, the fees have been viewed in the past as a chance for house officers to earn some extra cash.

But Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary, Norman Lamb said: “This is a well established practice but you really can't justify taking money off grieving relatives when this involves nothing beyond most doctors normal working hours.

“People are at their most vulnerable after the death of a loved one and the last thing they need is these extra charges. The NHS is meant to care for people from the cradle to grave but these charges undermine that principle.”

However Prue Rush, a health campaigner in Suffolk, said: “These forms are a legal obligation and are a safeguard to make sure everything is correct.

“The doctors are using their professional credentials and are entitled to a cash reward. If there is any comeback from it, the doctors are liable.”

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital confirmed that the forms were a “necessary formality”.

What do you think of these payments? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.