Dead bodies have been left to decompose at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital due to lack of freezer space.

In 2022 inspectors found inadequate storage space at the JR and “identified a number of bodies which had been held in refrigerated storage longer than the recommended 30 days which were beginning to show signs of deterioration”.

Official guidance from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) says that bodies should be moved into frozen storage after 30 days or before, depending on the condition of the body.

It is one of several NHS hospitals across England where inadequate storage facilities meant bodies had been left at unsuitable temperatures, according to reports by inspectors.

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Oxford University Hospitals said the risk of decomposition was unavoidable.

An OUH spokesperson said:  “Some deterioration of the deceased is expected in refrigerated storage, even for short periods, and would not normally fulfil criteria for notification under duty of candour guidance."

The duty of candour is a professional responsibility of healthcare professionals to be open and honest with patients when something goes wrong with their treatment or care.

She added: "Usual practice is to transfer deceased to frozen storage if they are to be stored for more than 30 days, though this depends on the condition of the deceased, location and availability of appropriate freezer space, and the likely timing of transfer to funeral directors, for whom receiving the deceased in a frozen state brings additional challenges and could delay a funeral.

"Freezing itself affects the appearance of a body, and therefore tends to be avoided when the deceased is likely to be moving to a funeral director’s care in the very near future."

“The OUH mortuary has recently been refurbished and expanded to increase its capacity in the context of rising regional and national demand for mortuary facilities," she said.

“We take great care to ensure that our patients are always treated with compassion and dignity, including after death."

Officials from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) found bodies have been left to decompose at NHS hospitals across England.

In one case, a body at the Royal Bolton Hospital was found in 'poor condition' after being refrigerated for 84 days.

Another, at Leeds General Infirmary last year, had not been moved into frozen storage for 70 days and showed 'signs of decomposition'.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ), which first reported on the issue, said it had found at least 10 cases across the country since 2022 where inspectors discovered one or more bodies had started to deteriorate due to inadequate storage facilities and a lack of freezer space.

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A spokeswoman for government watchdog the HTA the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) said: “The management of the deceased in some licensed mortuaries was identified as a concern through the HTA on-site inspection process.

“The deceased should be stored at temperatures that preserve their condition and there should be sufficient storage provision and alternatives in place if needed.

“We expect all licensed establishments to be compliant with our standards and ensure the dignity of the deceased is maintained.

“When we find shortfalls we work with establishments to ensure an action plan for improvement is put in place, lessons are learnt and the issue is escalated within the establishment where necessary.”