New Government funding has ensured the Rotorua Hospital mortuary will remain a five-day-a-week service.

Until December 2016, it was operating only three days a week.

New post-mortem service contracts for seven years, extendable to 13 years, started on September 1 across the country, after $7m of additional funding was allocated in the last Budget.

Rotorua Hospital's mortuary services Rotorua, Tauranga, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Taupō, Turangi, down into the Desert Rd area, Tokoroa and Putāruru.


It does a range of tasks for the district health board as well as coronial post-mortems for the Ministry of Justice.

Lakes District Health Board chief executive Ron Dunham said increasing the operating hours had ensured examinations were completed in Rotorua, Monday to Friday, and not sent to other areas.

"This means there is less stress for local families as they are not having to travel."

The changes are being welcomed by Rotorua woman Heeni Morehu.

Her son Hohepa Ahipene committed suicide in 2011, less than two years after her eldest son Kahu died after a car accident.

She said in both instances, the coronial, police, and hospital processes were overwhelming, when all she wanted was to bring the body home and arrange the tangi.

"It brought up a lot of feelings, being told we couldn't go in there behind the glass [at the mortuary]. At first, I wanted to smash the window. It is frustrating. It hurts."

Te Pae Fitzell, a close friend of Morehu, has worked closely in support groups with whānau who have had loved ones in the Rotorua Hospital mortuary.

She said: "The biggest obstacle seems to be navigating the process and knowing how long it will take. For any death, not just a traumatic death, it is part of who we are to want to be with our loved one and not leave their side."

Ministry of Justice chief operating officer Carl Crafar said the new contracts prioritised timely completion of post-mortems to return the deceased to families as quickly as possible and educating staff on cultural protocols.

He said Rotorua mortuary staff "are currently seen as an exemplar in responding to the cultural needs of whānau, and the ministry will work with its service providers to see how the learnings from the service can be disseminated elsewhere".

Crafar also said "coroners will be able to rely on services being available when requested, and have surety over the quality and timeliness of the services delivered" under the new contracts.

Rotorua Hospital mortuary. Photo/Supplied
Rotorua Hospital mortuary. Photo/Supplied

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists' executive director Ian Powell said, last month, increasing mortuary service hours and staffing under the new Ministry of Justice contracts relied on "anatomic pathologists being trained in post-mortems".

"This will place even more stress on the forensic pathology workforce and cause problems in five to 10 years as the current generation of coronial pathologists retire and are replaced with people who have not had the same training in post-mortems."

Crafar said the shortage in forensic pathologists was, in fact, a global issue, not caused by the Ministry of Justice's contract and service changes.

He said the new contracts would help service providers recruit and retain staff.