CIRENCESTER Hospital has closed its mortuary to avoid a massive refurbishment bill and awarded the service to a local funeral directors.

The Tetbury Road hospital, decided to shut down its mortuary earlier this year after discovering it would need a major refurbishment to stay fit for use estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds. It was given permission by the NHS Trust to outsource its mortuary service.

The NHS hospital put the contract out to tender and all three Cirencester funeral directors- Cowley and Son, A Slade and Son, and Packer and Slade - submitted bids.

The three-year contract has been awarded to Cowley and Son, on Victoria Road.

The contract means Cowley and Sons is responsible for collecting and storing bodies until the family chooses a funeral director.

Robert Orford, part-owner Cowley and Sons, said he was pleased with the new arrangement "Cirencester hospital has out-of-date facilities whereas what we have is state-of-the-art," he said.

"It is a great thing for the hospital too because their current mortuary is unfit for use so they have saved vast sums of money from not having to refurbish it."

A spokesman for NHS Gloucestershire confirmed the agreement and said the funeral directors would provide a "professional and timely mortuary service in a suitable environment".

He said all options had been considered before going ahead with the new system. There are currently no plans to re-develop the mortuary space.

Nigel Keen, co-owner of Cowley's, commented: "We are a big supporter of the hospital and we are delighted we have saved them money. Their money is better spent on patient care.

"The community needs to do all it can to keep the hospital going."

Mr Orford stressed that the agreement would not force families to choose Cowley and Sons as their funeral directors.

"Bereaved families have a free choice," he said. "We don’t have a monopoly on people who die at Cirencester hospital."

He said Cowley and Sons would not receive payment from the NHS for the service.

"We have competitors in the town and we have to do all we can to get a step ahead," he added. "This could be a great opportunity for us."