New air-conditioning units for dilapidated Waterford mortuary

Hospital manager tells Oireachtas committee units to be installed shortly

UHW general manager Grace Rothwell said steps had been taken to address the concerns of the State Pathologist’s Office about the condition of its mortuary. File photograph: Patrick Browne

UHW general manager Grace Rothwell said steps had been taken to address the concerns of the State Pathologist’s Office about the condition of its mortuary. File photograph: Patrick Browne

 

University Hospital Waterford has acquired new air conditioning units for its dilapidated mortuary following concerns that conditions could contaminate evidence.

The mortuary was the subject of recent controversy after pathologists wrote a letter describing a lack of proper refrigeration facilities that had left bodies decomposing on trolleys.

Earlier this month, it emerged the State Pathologist’s Office had decided to no longer use the facility.

On Wednesday, the hospital’s general manager Grace Rothwell said steps had been taken to address their concerns but that they had received no indication the position had changed.

“My understanding is in relation to the State pathologists that their primary concern is in relation to potential contamination of evidence because that room is not in accordance with air conditioning,” she told the Oireachtas Health Committee.

She said new air conditioning units would be installed shortly.

At the same hearing, Minister for Health Simon Harris said a review of conditions and governance at the mortuary would be complete by September

. Terms of reference have been signed off on and will be made public once a review team is in place, the committee was told.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly was critical of the lack of notice given regarding the attendance of hospital management but was told it had been indicated to the committee.

She asked Ms Rothwell whether she believed conditions at the mortuary were safe for staff and relatives of the deceased ahead of a replacement being built.

“I am happy today that there is adequate refrigeration capacity, that it is an appropriate place for relatives to view remains and that we have put in place in the immediate, procedures to ensure it is a safe place,” Ms Rothwell said. “However, I am also mindful that it is a structure built in 1991 and in the context of postmortems, and specifically the postmortem room, that room is not fit for purpose.”

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said he did not believe a review was required but that a report on the situation should have already been completed and given to the Health Service Executive.

“Long before this happened, there should have been a response and I don’t understand how that didn’t happen,” he told the committee.

The original letter of concern signed by four pathologists exposing the problems noted dead bodies had been left lying on trolleys leaking bodily fluids onto corridors and making closed-coffin funerals unavoidable in some cases.