Senior hospital official ‘appalled’ at condition of Waterford mortuary

Group officer said was not ‘suitable environment’ for relatives of deceased in July letter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: he  described the mortuary claims as “a strange story” during a visit to Waterford on Tuesday

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: he described the mortuary claims as “a strange story” during a visit to Waterford on Tuesday

 

A senior executive in the South and South West Hospital Group was “appalled at the poor condition” of the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford, he told the HSE’s own estate management department.

In a letter to the HSE last July, group chief operations officer Dr Gerard O’Callaghan said there were “obvious health and safety and infection issues” at the building.

He said it was not “a suitable environment” for relatives of the dead.

Last week it was reported that four consultants had criticised the poor condition of the mortuary storage and refrigeration facilities, saying dead bodies had been left lying on trolleys at the hospital, leaking bodily fluids onto corridors and making closed-coffin funerals unavoidable in some cases.

They made the complaints in a letter last October to the chief executive of the hospital group.

However, in a statement this week the hospital group said it had “no evidence” to substantiate claims about the condition of the hospital mortuary.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the claims as “a strange story” during a visit to Waterford on Tuesday.

In the July 2018 letter to the HSE’s estates department, Dr O’Callaghan said it was an “imperative that development of a new mortuary would be given priority”. He wrote the letter a day after visiting the mortuary, which took place at the request of Waterford hospital management.

“The working conditions for the staff are not acceptable,” he wrote.

He said he was aware that the development of a new mortuary had been a priority for a number of years, and that the current mortuary had been classed as a “risk” by the management.

Capital plans

He said the group had included the development in its capital plans for the past number of years. “I believe it is now imperative that this development would be given priority by the HSE estates department.”

When asked on Thursday what took place to further the development of the mortuary, the hospital group could not immediately comment.

The mortuary facility was mentioned for replacement in the HSE’s capital draft plan from 2014-2018.

The hospital group last week said a mobile refrigeration unit would be installed within a fortnight, and a minor extension within 10 weeks. A new mortuary at the hospital would be completed within two years, subject to capital approval.

The letter from the hospital group was given to Waterford Oireachtas members on Monday last during a meeting involving the hospital group and hospital management.

Waterford Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the letter showed “at the highest level in the hospital group there was knowledge that the mortuary wasn’t fit for purpose”.

Asked about his remarks again on Thursday, the Taoiseach said his priority was the construction of a new mortuary, and maintained there was “very clearly and very evidently a dispute about the facts”.