A funeral director has lifted the lid on the "forgotten trade" of the pandemic - saying she's had people confess to having Covid after attending a service.

Nicola Carpenter, who owns a funeral directors in Birmingham, says it's happened three times at her independent company that people have admitted - after a service is over - that they had coronavirus but didn't want to miss the funeral.

She claims she's heard about it being a "widespread problem" from other colleagues in the trade and is warning of the dangers, urging people to be responsible.

Nicola, who says workers in her industry are "exhausted, bruised and battered but keep coming back for more".

She said she's seen fear in her colleagues eyes like never before, even after 10 years working as a funeral director.

"While none of us want to take attention away from those saving the living, we are dealing with the tragic aftermath," she said, speaking to the Mirror.

"We are exhausted, scared and have been under prepared by the government in how to deal with the deceased once we know they have been infected."

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Funeral director Nicola Carpenter
Nicola wants to raise awareness of the work funeral directors are doing

More than 120,000 people have now died with Covid in the UK.

Both spring 2020 and the last few weeks saw thousands of excess deaths per week, placing great strain on the funeral industry.

Nicola said they've had to fight for information and fought to get vaccines - although for her it came too late as she tested positive for coronavirus beforehand.

She'd suffered body aches, loss of taste and smell, bad headaches and extreme fatigue.

Nicola, who spoke to the Mirror while recovering, said: "We have had families [later] admit that they have got Covid and they have come out anyway, exposing people to the virus.

"Or they will ring up two days after and say they feel guilty now but 'a couple of us have got Covid but we didn't tell you because you wouldn't have let us come'.

"It leaves a struggling service with staff having to isolate or poorly."

Nicola said this has happened three times in her experience but she has heard stories about similar incidents in the trade "in forums up and down the country".

"Lots of funeral directors have had that," she said.

"Phone calls afterwards, people admitting they have got Covid but weren't going to miss the funeral.

"It's usually after the funeral service has taken place and they are outside.

"Our message is please just delay the funeral because it doesn't matter whose funeral it is if you're going to cause another one.

"I understand the need to say goodbye but this thing [coronavirus] does not care. You need to be responsible."

Nicola Carpenter owns her own funeral directors in Birmingham

Nicola added: "When this happens you have to inform the crematorium. Every chapel is cleaned rigorously between each service anyway.

"We have to try and get details of the people for track and trace and gather information on if staff have been in close proximity to them.

"If they have to isolate it takes everybody off for two weeks.

"It's grief that makes people do silly things."

Nicola said she knows of some funeral directors who are not allowing any chapel visits due to the risk of someone bringing in Covid.

"We are allowing visits as long as the deceased has passed away for more than 72 hours and only allowing two in at a time," she said.

"We have found that has been really important for families to be able to say goodbye.

"A lot of family members say 'how do I know it's my dad or my brother - he went away in an ambulance two weeks ago, I need to see him'."

But Nicola says it's about weighing up the risk for staff and family members.

"It's still scary now trying to protect ourselves"

She continued: "I have been told the virus should be gone 72 hours later. We waited six months for that information to come through.

"The first six or seven months of the pandemic the deceased had to be in a sealed coffin straight away - they couldn't be dressed or embalmed.

"I felt I was not living up to what I should be doing. I was not able to care for the deceased the way I wanted to due to the pandemic and it's something that will stay with me forever.

"I have spent hours on the phone to some families just going through the reasons why only so many people can attend."

She said families have had to do a lot of "accepting" over the last 12 months and she's found it difficult not to "take her work home" and feels "forgotten".

"I know the living had to come first with government advice. But I feel the living looking after the deceased have been forgotten," she added.

"The fear I have seen in colleagues' eyes is not something I have seen for 10 years working in the trade.

"Everybody is doing what they can do to keep families safe. But the stress it has put on the funeral trade - we are only human and I felt it needed raising.

"We are still battling through this and trying to give people that last dignity.

"If it was my family member I would want the world for them and I have always treated the families like they are my own.

"I lost my father when I was 23 and I treat every funeral like it was his because it's something you have to live with after."

"The first six or seven months of the pandemic the deceased had to be in a sealed coffin straight away," Nicola said (file photo)

And she claims she's had to fight for every bit of information she can get.

"There's been very little guidance from the government to deal with it, and how long the virus lasts in someone who has passed away.

"We have had social distancing measures in place for dealing with the deceased from the beginning - having to keep them sealed while trying to maintain their dignity .

"In some cases families have not seen their loved ones for six weeks before and even after to say goodbye to them.

"Trying to explain to families about the restrictions when really we were on the backfoot ourselves - it's really hard.

"It was scary - and it's still scary now trying to protect ourselves.

"I want to highlight just what the funeral trade is going through. I want people to know they are not on their own."

A Government spokesperson told the Mirror: “We recognise and value the funeral sector for their work during this challenging time.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with representatives across the sector and taken steps to ensure they are well prepared to respond to the pandemic.

“Extensive guidance has been shared on managing coronavirus deaths and we will continue to keep support under review.”

A spokeswoman from the National Association of Funeral Directors commented: "Funeral directors have been (and still are) under huge pressure. They are a quietly determined, compassionate and resilient profession but, while they might be experienced in caring for those who die, we know that the scale of loss and the restrictions placed on the care they are able to provide has been profoundly distressing for them.

"The government has recognised the importance of funerals and the role of funeral directors from the outset.

"Funerals are a chance to say goodbye that cannot be repeated, or delayed, and so they have been the only consistently permitted gathering throughout the pandemic.

"Working with organisations like the Deceased Management Advisory Group – of which the NAFD is part - the government has recognised the important role funeral directors play - classifying them as critical workers, making PPE available to them through local resilience forums and including them as Health and Social Care workers for early vaccination.

"All that said, it’s easy to understand why some might feel like the forgotten frontline; funeral directors are never mentioned by government ministers when they talk about critical workers and we would like to see them acknowledged for their service to the nation during the pandemic too."