Upgrade in mortuary facilities bypassed Waterford hospital

Mortuary facilities in most State hospitals improved by recent capital investment

The mortuary at University Hospital Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

The mortuary at University Hospital Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

 

The mortuary facility at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) seems to have been left lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to facilities and capital investment.

Conditions in the hospital, which provides mortuary and postmortem services for a wide area of the southeast, have been strongly criticised by four consultants in a letter to hospital management.

They write that the mortuary lacks of sufficient refrigeration and the situation is so serious that some bodies simply decompose.

However, according to a number of practitioners in the field, the standard of mortuary and postmortem facilities in most of the State’s hospitals has been improved by capital investment over recent years.

UHW was the only mortuary facility mentioned for replacement in the Heath Service Executive’s capital draft plan from 2014-2018. The plan contains a list of projects for which approval has been sought from the Department of Health. Construction of the new facility is expected to begin late this year.

Waterford coroner John Goff said he had not been aware that there were problems with the quality of service at the Waterford mortuary. Mr Goff said he was aware there was a practice of sending high-risk postmortems, such as on deceased who had Aids, to other facilities.

“By and large the facilities [around the State] were centralised some years ago and improved. But the improvement didn’t happen in Waterford.”

Dr Tom Crotty, a consultant histopathologist at St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin, who carries out postmortems, expressed surprise at reports on Waterford.

“I was surprised to read that the facilities were poor, but postmortem services tend to be down the totem pole in terms of funding,” he said.

Investments

He said he has not heard of facilities being particularly bad in any hospital. However, he said he would have presumed that the facilities in Waterford were good because of investments in other aspects of the hospital in recent times.

“Families don’t tend to complain about poor facilities, though maybe that’s because they don’t know. I’m sure there are other hospitals out there that are stretched,” he said.

He said facilities at St Vincent’s and St James’s in Dublin are state of the art due to work carried out over the past decade.

A spokeswoman for the HSE was unable to say whether it was currently seeking approval for capital expenditure on any hospital mortuary facility other than Waterford.

The only other mention of mortuary facilities in need of investment in the HSE capital plan is in relation to the unit at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin. This work was completed in 2015.

Last year, pathologists at Letterkenny University Hospital threatened to stop conducting postmortems there because of their dissatisfaction with the facility. However, work costing €750,000 on the facility is now nearing completion. “At no time was the quality of the service affected,” according to local TD, Pat the Cope Gallagher TD.

“It had served its purpose and needed to be replaced, but there is no question of bodies having been on trolleys or anything like that.”

There is no issue with the fridge capacity in the mortuary at Letterkenny, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The facilities in Tullamore and Portlaoise used to be very poor and dated back to when the hospitals were built in the 1950s, but they have now been upgraded, according to Eugene O’Connor, the coroner for Co Laois and former president of the Society of Coroners. He said he did not know of any concerns about poor standards in mortuaries in hospitals in other areas.

Finbarr O’Connor, of O’Connor Bros funeral home, North Gate Bridge, Cork, said that as far as he was aware, standards in Cork were “impeccable”.

“I have never heard of a deceased being left on a trolley in any of the Cork hospitals, and we would go to all of them on a regular basis. The end-of-life care in Cork is very good.”

His work also brings him to collect the bodies of deceased people from hospitals outside Cork, to bring them back to Cork. “I have never seen a gurney with a deceased on it, in a corridor, ever.”

The State Pathologist service, which conducts postmortems on suspicious deaths, has a new mortuary and facility in Dublin, in the old Whitehall Garda station.

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