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Harris says pathologists that raised concerns about Waterford mortuary 'carried out an important duty'

The journalist who broke the story has published the letter which originally raised concerns.

Image: Sam Boal

Updated May 2nd 2019, 4:05 PM

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris said the four pathologists that raised concerns about the mortuary in University Hospital Waterford “carried out an important duty”. 

His comments come as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called out Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for stating on Tuesday that he wasn’t sure if the claims were true and that there was “no evidence” to support the allegations from those who made them. 

Martin said he was “surprised” by the Taoiseach’s comments, adding that they undermined the concerns raised by four pathologists.

Dead bodies on trolleys

Last week concerns were raised about dead bodies being left on trolleys in the corridors of the mortuary, leading to closed-coffin funerals, and exposing the public visiting hospitals “to the odours of a postmortem room”.

But since the news broke last week, the South-South West Hospital Group and Waterford University Hospital said that it hadn’t received a complaint from the public or an incident report from staff members in relation to the mortuary.

These concerns were first raised in an October letter signed by four consultant pathologists seen by the Waterford News and Star. Darren Skelton, the journalist who broke the story after receiving the letter anonymously following the refusal of his Freedom of Information request, published the letter on Twitter.

When asked about the issue today, and whether the Taoiseach’s comments would deter other health professionals from speaking out, Harris said the pathologists “carried out an important duty in coming forward and communicating their concerns to hospital management”.

“Of course, they did that many months ago, obviously it arrived in the media many months later, but they had highlighted their concerns,” he said, adding that “there is no disagreement, there is a need for a new mortuary in Waterford.

“I suppose we don’t know the details as to what happens in the mortuary on every single day, and that’s the point the Taoiseach was highlighting,” said the health minister. 

Taoiseach’s comments

When asked if it was wrong of the Taoiseach to speak out about the case before a review has been undertaken, Harris said “no, of course not”.

“I think the Taoiseach, as is his trademark, was asked a question and he gave a very honest appraisal of the situation, that factually he didn’t have all of the evidence or all of the information,” said the minister. 

Harris disagreed that the government does not take seriously what is raised by nurses and doctors, stating:

“Of course we take it extremely seriously what doctors and nurses say but we also respect other people that work in our hospitals as well.  We take very seriously what hospital managers say as well, and we respect their integrity and truthfulness as well, but I don’t think there is a serious disagreement here, it’s useful for some to endeavour to exploit it as such.”

Fianna Fáil reaction

Speaking at the launch of Fianna Fáil’s European election manifesto, Martin said: “I was surprised by the Taoiseach’s remarks because he was essentially undermining the contributions that the doctors made.” 

I think there’s a tendency to try to undermine people within our health system who try to raise serious issues, which I worry about. It’s not just on this issue, it’s on other issues. 

“There’s a certain culture of fear within our health system to speak out for fear that the system will be down on top of you very quickly and that’s something I don’t like.

There are clearly issues with that mortuary in Waterford University Hospital, there’s no point trying to undermine the people articulating the issues on that, there’s ongoing correspondence on the issue.

All five of Fianna Fáil’s MEP candidates were present at today’s launch: Barry Andrews in Dublin; Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte in the Midlands North West; and Billy Kelleher and Malcolm Byrne in Ireland South.

Kelleher said that the European elections and local elections running concurrently means that there’s a “difficulty in getting a strong debate” on issues in the EU and Europe, which Rabbitte agreed with strongly.

When asked if he was concerned about the threat Peter Casey posed in taking Fianna Fáil’s support, Martin says he doesn’t think his party’s candidates will receive less support because of Casey, but said that people should be scrutinising what he says.

On issues in Northern Ireland, Martin says “we should never weaponise the Irish language” and criticised both Sinn Féin and the DUP’s approach to Stormont negotiations to get an Assembly back up and running.

Martin warned of the trepidation in relation to an EU army, saying that it’s constantly used to create a fear about Europe.

How many times in the last 5 decades have we heard of the scare tactics of an EU army? It seems to be trotted out every time there is an election.

In their manifesto, Fianna Fáil pledges to “fully maintain our neutrality status”, which has enabled Ireland to “play a leading role as independent peacekeepers across the globe”. But it adds:

“Fianna Fáil is opposed to the creation of an Eu-wide army as it would breach out central principle of neutrality. Any role Ireland plays in European Defence Agency programmes should be guided by this core policy of maintaining our neutrality, underpinned by the triple lock mechanism.”

Martin accused Sinn Féin of fermenting “an anti-EU agenda”, and being “soft on Russia” in relation to its military involvement in the Ukraine.

Martin also took aim at Sinn Féin MEP candidate Matt Carthy, saying that a vote for him  would be a vote for Carthy as an MEP for a short time, as he’s expected to run as a TD in the next general election.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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