Mobile refrigerated unit for bodies to be provided at Waterford hospital mortuary

Four consultants reported dead bodies had been left lying on trolleys at UHW

The mortuary at University Hospital Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

The mortuary at University Hospital Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

 

A mobile refrigerated unit for bodies is to be provided at University Hospital Waterford following concerns raised by four consultant pathologists about facilities at the hospital mortuary.

The HSE in a statement on Friday evening said the new mobile unit would be available for use within one to two weeks.

It comes just days after it emerged the consultants had highlighted the fact that dead bodies have been left lying on trolleys at the hospital, leaking bodily fluids onto corridors and making closed-coffin funerals unavoidable in some cases, in a letter last October to Gerry O’Dwyer, chief executive of the South – South West Hospital Group in Cork.

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

The letter was 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,” their letter stated.

“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,” they added.

In a statement on Friday evening the South/South West Hospital Group said that “a mobile refrigerated unit will be on site, installed and available for use within one to two weeks”.

It added that the short to medium term plan of a minor extension to the existing mortuary building and an additional refrigeration unit will be on site and available for use in eight to 10 weeks.

“The long-term plan of a new capital mortuary build at University Hospital Waterford will be completed within two years, subject to capital approval,” it added.

Investigation

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has meanwhile been called on to urgently establish an investigation into the “disturbing” claims by the consultant pathologists.

Waterford Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the Minister now needed to investigate the claims. “Bereaved families in Waterford and the southeast deserve answers and the facts,” he said.

“It is horrifying to think that decomposing bodies were left on trolleys due to a lack of refrigeration facilities at the mortuary. It is equally horrifying to learn that this led to some families not being able to wake their loved ones in an open casket.

“The Minister for Health needs to urgently establish an investigation into the contents of the letter and the graphic and disturbing issues raised,” he said.

“These claims raise serious questions. How long was this happening? How many bodies were left decomposing on trolleys? Were the relatives of the deceased informed? It has been confirmed to me by a senior hospital manager that no family was ever informed of these circumstances. This is truly shocking.

He has also written to the chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health asking that the committee fully examine the issues raised by the four consultant pathologists, saying there are serious questions to be answered by hospital management, the hospital group, and the HSE.

He said he and his Oireachtas colleagues in Waterford have arranged a meeting with hospital management and the CEO of the South/Southwest Hospital Group for next Monday. He said he will be demanding answers as to why no bereaved families were ever informed of the poor circumstances at the mortuary and why was this hidden from families of the deceased.

“Issues raised by four consultant pathologists at UHW regarding substandard facilities at the mortuary in Waterford has horrified and shocked people across the region,” he said.

Prof Landers, who was one of the consultants who signed the letter to the hospital group, said families were not informed at the time and were likely unaware of the reasons behind their loved ones’ decomposition due to it being a “taboo subject”.

“People don’t like discussing death, they don’t like discussing what happens to a body after death, and people don’t want to know the mechanics of what goes on in a mortuary or what goes on in an embalming, and there’s no need for people to know normally – they don’t have to know, ” he said.

The Department of Health said in a statement earlier this week that funding for a mortuary building would be a “matter of priority” and construction would start before the end of the year.