“MY husband is squeamish so he doesn’t usually ask how my day went,” says Veronica Kourtellaris, who works in Hillingdon Hospital’s mortuary.

The former hairdresser turned senior anatomical pathology technician is responsible for handling more than 800 deceased patients each year, ensuring the necessary paperwork is in order before they are released to the undertaker.

Anyone who dies in hospital will pass through the hands of Veronica and her colleague, Jo Stokes, after being brought down from the wards.

Information about the deceased is doubled-checked on arrival before they are stored in one of 49 refrigerated stores.

If the patient has a pacemaker fitted, the team will surgically remove it as the batteries can explode in the heat of a crematorium.

Post-mortems are rare, though relatives or doctors can request one to make further studies into the patient’s medical condition or identify any genetic defects.

Veronica is also qualified to remove brains and spinal cords from organ donors for the Brain Bank at University College, London.

“It is fascinating work,” says Veronica, who takes minutes to remove a brain, while the removal of a spinal cord is a trickier challenge as she has to carefully saw through the spinal column.

The resulting tissue proves invaluable to researchers looking into the degenerative effects of conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.

One of the toughest parts of the job can be arranging family viewings of the deceased when emotions are running high, though the ward staff accompany the families.”

Veronica added: “We pride ourselves on being compassionate and carin,g but recognise that people react to grief in different ways.

“Some are relieved by the death, as a loved one may have a suffered a long illness, while other are angry and distraught.”

Religious preference is also an important consideration, with Muslim and Jewish faiths preferring a quick burial and the former requiring the head to be turned over the right shoulder.

“I recently handled a passenger death at Heathrow Airport, which required the attendance of a Rabbi. It is interesting to see various faiths at work.

“I always try to learn from those opportunities and have a close working relationship with our own hospital chaplain.”

The mortuary can be a busy place, depending on the time of year.

The number of deaths rises sharply in the winter months, especially among the elderly who fall prey to winter illnesses.

Hot weather can also produce a spike, with an increase in heart attacks and respiratory illnesses.

Both women agree that the growth of TV shows featuring the work of criminologists and pathologists sheds more light on their work, but often they don’t watch because of inaccuracies.

“No-one else would notice it, but they often don’t show the technologist doing any surgical work, which bugs you if it’s your line of work. Our work involves great attention to detail.

“There are instances when it can be upsetting, but I have learned to detach myself emotionally in my day-to-day work. The most important thing is to remain compassionate and treat the deceased with respect.

“We’re the hidden hospital service in many ways, but we pride ourselves on making sure our patients are cared for until they leave us. The mortuary is the last point of care in the hospital.”