THE MORTUARY at Southend Hospital is set to "double" its capacity with a £5 million extension to help it keep up with demand and improve facilities.

Built in the 1960s, the mortuary and bereavement suite are now said to be non-compliant with current NHS standards, so an extension is planned to offer better facilities for staff and grieving families.

The extension will provide 97 extra spaces, after the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust admitted it was struggling to meet demand.

A spokesman confirmed arrangements have been made with funeral directors while the extension is built.

Echo: Graphic - how the extension will look.Graphic - how the extension will look. (Image: Ryder Architecture)

This month, building firm Barnes Construction was awarded a £5.26 million contract to complete the project, which will see a new viewing area built for families to visit their loved ones.

A “bereavement garden” will also be added near the front entrance.

Chris Howlett, senior director of estates and facilities at Mid and South Essex NHS Trust, said: “We have begun improvement works to our mortuary which will enable us to increase our capacity in Southend. This will provide families with better facilities to view their relatives and a bereavement garden.

“We expect this work to be completed by February 2025.”

Echo: Southend Hospital - more capacity is needed at its mortuary.Southend Hospital - more capacity is needed at its mortuary. (Image: Ben Shahrabi)

The mortuary provides a service to patients that die in Southend Hospital, along with people in Castle Point, Rochford and elsewhere in Essex.

Ryder Architecture has designed the extension, which aims to blend in with the hospital’s “varied and complicated roofscape”. Since it opened in 1888, Southend Hospital has seen several extensions and additional buildings constructed on the site.

In a planning statement, a Ryder Architecture spokesman said: “The redevelopment will result in increased robustness of the service.

“It will ensure the service provides a facility that is fit for purpose for the future operation of post mortem and mortuary services.”

The firm says the extension will “improve privacy, dignity, and respect for the deceased”.

Currently, the door from the post-mortem room opens directly into where bodies are stored, which “causes difficulty maintaining the dignity and respect of the patients during post-mortem examinations.”

Meanwhile, the extension will also add improved parking for undertakers and funeral directors, with a dedicated entrance to allow them to “discretely and efficiently pick up the deceased”.