A north-east funeral director described those in the sector as the nation’s “forgotten frontline workers” as he appealed for the industry to be prioritised for Covid vaccinations.
Brian Smith, of Brian Smith Funeral Services in Banchory, said those in the funeral and cremation sector deserve prioritisation as part of the vaccine roll-out.
Health and social care workers and care home residents were deemed most at risk of catching the virus and have been first to receive jabs.
But Mr Smith stressed that those in his line of work also frequently encounter situations that could put them in harm’s way.
And he has been left with little idea of when he and his colleagues might receive the injections.
‘We’re frontline workers who have been forgotten’
He said: “It feels like we’re the ones who have been forgotten about.
“With the vaccine coming out, we’ve been asking when we’ll get it, but nobody seems to know, so we feel a little bit left out.
“If the company catches Covid, we have to stop and shut down, and it’s the same with the crematoria.”
Mr Smith’s family-run business was established in 1992, and operates in Peterculter, Banchory and Aboyne.
He added: “Everybody else seems to be getting put in to get the vaccine, and I really do feel like we’re frontline workers who have been forgotten, we should be up there with police, fire and ambulance workers.”
Mr Smith has gone to the Tory MSP for Aberdeenshire West, Alexander Burnett, to voice his concerns.
Mr Burnett has now asked the Scottish Government if funeral staff will be included in the next phase of vaccinations.
‘SNP Government must acknowledge this sector forms part of our frontline staff’
Mr Burnett said: “The safety of funeral directors during the pandemic cannot be underestimated which is why it’s important they are included in the next phase of the vaccine.
“The SNP Government must realise and acknowledge that this sector forms part of our frontline staff who are helping families during such a difficult period.
“It’s unacceptable in these current times for funeral directors and crematorium staff to be classed as the ‘forgotten frontline workers’ – they are caring for the needs of people and families when they are called upon.
“Concerned funeral directors such as Brian Smith have contacted me over the vaccine rollout and the SNP government must address the fears of these workers who are helping others in a time of need.”
However, Highland funeral director Alasdair Rhind believes the safety precautions used in the profession offer sufficent protection from the virus.
He said: “I don’t think funeral directors should be before anyone else in getting the vaccine. I wouldn’t regard us as being any more important than anyone else.
“There are precautions that we take in dealing with situations and respecting the dignity of the person. We’re all doing a job and as long as we have respect for one another that’s the main thing.”
Mr Rhind, who is also a Highland councillor for Tain and Easter Ross, has yet to decide if he will have the vaccine.
He said: “I will need to take stock of what’s been said about people who have had the vaccine and how they are doing. It’s very early days to say whether I’ll be having it or not.”
We recognise the important role funeral directors play, particularly during the pandemic and we want to get vaccines to everyone as quickly as we can and we hope to reach all the key groups soon.”
Scottish Government spokeswoman
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation’s (JCVI) initial advice is focussed on preventing severe illness and loss of life, first and foremost, and this is why it focusses on older people and health and social care workers.
“We will be guided by the independent advice of the JCVI which has identified priority groups for the vaccine, with older people, health and social care workers and those who are clinically vulnerable coming first.
“We recognise the important role funeral directors play, particularly during the pandemic and we want to get vaccines to everyone as quickly as we can and we hope to reach all the key groups soon.”