Case Notes; Just the Job

Article excerpt

Byline: SARAH RICHARDSON

Robin Dobinson Senior anatomical pathology technician ROBIN Dobinson's busiest time of the year is January. "It's true that people tend to hang on to die in the New Year," he says.

"There are more deaths anyway in the winter because of the cold. But there's also a backlog of bodies because you can't get buried over the Christmas period. The hospitals keep the bodies in refrigeration."

Dobinson heads up a team of four morticians at the mortuary at St George's Hospital in Tooting. The team works from 7am to 4.30pm, five days a week, although there is always someone available on call 24 hours a day. "We get a call from the coroner's officer if there's a suspicious death," he says.

"When we're closed at the weekend, the undertakers will bring a body directly into the mortuary."

The team at St George's can work on up to 10 postmortems at a time.

"We eviscerate the bodies - that's taking all the internal organs out ready for the pathologist to establish the cause of death," explains Dobinson.

"Then it's our job to put all the organs back and sew up the body."

"If the pathologist is unable to establish a cause of death there will be an inquest," he adds.

"And we'll do further tests, such as taking blood and urine samples."

There are two kinds of postmortem: a hospital postmortem, when a doctor feels she or he cannot sign the death certificate; or a coroner's postmortem, when there has been a suspicious death.

"Either way there's a lot a paperwork," says Dobinson. "We need medical notes and a consent form signed by a family member for a hospital postmortem.

The coroner's office in Battersea tends to fax over the case notes to us the day before we see a body. …