BEREAVED families are being left “distressed and distraught” as they wait up to a month for funerals, it has been claimed.

The problems are being caused by the reduced capacity at Eltham crematorium, in Crown Woods Way, while work to install new cremators is underway.

Rachel Micallef from Ashdown Funeral Services in Blackfen, says relatives are now having to go to other boroughs to cremate their loved ones and warned the situation could reach crisis point if the swine flu pandemic escalates.

Mrs Micallef said the work meant many families were now having to wait a whole month for cremations.

She said: “It’s a horrendous problem and it’s getting worse.

“Families are being left distressed and distraught.”

Mrs Micallef says the bereaved are now being offered a service at Eltham before a hearse takes the coffin over to Hither Green crematorium for the actual cremation.

But she said one family from Welling had to be told the nearest place they could go for a cremation would be Beckenham because of heavy demand.

The funeral director said: “It’s disrespectful. We’re talking about a very sensitive time for families but I don’t think they’ve been given any consideration at all.”

Mrs Micallef said she expects problems to worsen in the coming months She said: “If there’s a pandemic what are we going to do with all the dead people?”

Funeral director Terry Williams from the family-run Dean Wilson outlet in Well Hall Road, Eltham, said they had also experienced difficulties.

He said: “They’re running on two cylinders and we’ve got funerals running well into September.

“It’s an unsual situation. We use it all the time so we have to explain to people what’s happening.

“Some people obviously think it’s a long time but there’s not a lot we can do about it.”

Mr Williams said planned work at Hither Green crematorium would also complicate matters.

Greenwich Council says the crematorium is one of the country’s busiest and improvements are needed to deliver a better service and meet environmental standards.

A spokesman said: “For each funeral we discuss in detail the requirements of the family to ensure they can be met at Eltham whilst the works are underway so that funeral directors and families can make an informed choice.

“Funeral directors are aware of the additional option of using the facilities at Lewisham, and this has been chosen by some of our customers.

“The improvement works have been in the planning for a number of years and there has been continued consultation throughout with all those we regularly work with, including all local funeral directors.

“Works are also taking place at what is the quietest time of the year.”