Dead bodies left on trolleys in corridors at Waterford hospital

Corpses were let decompose, making closed-coffin funerals unavoidable

Dead bodies have been left lying on trolleys at University Hospital Waterford (UHW), leaking bodily fluids on to corridors and making closed-coffin funerals unavoidable in some cases, a damning letter by four consultant pathologists has said.

The mortuary lacks of sufficient refrigeration and the situation is so serious that some bodies simply decompose, causing “almost unspeakable” distress to families, the four warned.

The stark conditions were outlined by four consultant pathologists in a letter to Gerry O'Dwyer, chief executive of the South – South West Hospital Group in Cork last October, but no significant changes have been made since.

The letter, first seen by the Waterford News and Star, is signed by consultant pathologists Prof Rob Landers, Dr Fergus MacSweeney, Dr Nigam Shah and Dr Christine Shilling, all of UHW.


“Due to inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities, most bodies lie on trolleys in corridors, often leaking body fluids on to the floor,” the letter states.

“Bodies decompose in the corridors, leading to closed-coffin funerals with relatives unable to view the remains as a result of gaseous decomposition. The trauma imposed on the bereaved is almost unspeakable.

“The cramped facilities expose the public to the noise and odours of a working postmortem room when visiting the public areas of the mortuary for identification/viewing purposes and funerals,” the four went on.

Stressful time

Many families are unaware of the problems at the mortuary, particularly because they are already facing a stressful time: “If people were aware then it would have come up and been raised,” one medical source said last night.

People with terminal illnesses are likely to decompose quicker than people who have died due to natural causes, which has exacerbated the refrigeration problems that exist in Waterford.

The pathologists’ letter, which has also been seen by The Irish Times, warns that the mortuary poses an environmental and health risks, because of the danger of infection spreading and the circulation of unfiltered air.

Calling for urgent remedial action at the mortuary and postmortem facilities, the doctors said existing conditions are a “gross affront to the dignity of the deceased and the bereaved”.

A failure to act now by the Health Service Executive would see the pathologists, who are responsible for the clinical governance of the service, left with no option but to cease working in the mortuary.

Detailing the background to the problem, the four said the mortuary was deemed unfit for purpose in 2004, but the HSE has failed since to replace it.

A remediation plan did not win capital approval until 2013, but there is still “no definite commitment from the HSE to fund the completion of this project other than it is queued for funding without a defined timeframe,” they say.

The doctors also warn it is a “matter of time” before a high-profile case exposes the situation and says the HSE has been fortunate the events have not yet reached the public domain.

Last night, a Waterford medical source said: “There are distressing enough scenes at times and bodies have been sent back to families in a decomposed state. [Families] assume it’s related to an underlying or terminal illness.”

The HSE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.