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Fungus growth and odours from corpses: 2012 report outlined conditions at Waterford hospital to HSE

The HSE approved €5.7 million in funding for a new mortuary earlier this year.

The mortuary at University Hospital Waterford made headlines earlier this year
The mortuary at University Hospital Waterford made headlines earlier this year
Image: Google Street View

THE COST OF building a new mortuary at University Hospital Waterford would have been a third what the HSE agreed to pay this year if advice from an architect seven years ago had been acted upon at the time.

In October 2012, RKD Architects told the HSE that it recommended constructing a new mortuary at the hospital after the health service tasked the firm to carry out an inspection at the facility.

The mortuary made headlines in April last year after it emerged that four pathologists raised concerns about the state of the facility, describing it as “unsafe for staff, visitors and the general public”.

The pathologists’ letter, first reported by the Waterford News and Star, stated that due to inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities, “most bodies lie on corridors, often leaking body fluids onto the floor” at the mortuary.

The facility had already been deemed unfit for purpose in 2004 and a new mortuary plan was given the green light in 2014 when it was included in the HSE’s capital plan.

The project then remained in a queue, without a commitment of funding, before the HSE said €5.7 million had been approved for the development in June.

Documents released to TheJournal.ie‘s investigative platform Noteworthy.ie later showed that HSE staff pushed for the plan for a new facility to go to tender in 2017, when it would have cost an estimated €4.6 million. 

But RKD’s inspection report, released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the firm recommended constructing the new mortuary for an estimated cost of €1.9m in 2012.

At the time, the firm told the HSE that the mortuary did not meet the capacity requirements for a facility catering for a population of a city the size of Waterford.

“Post mortem examinations have increased dramatically in number from 143 in 1999 to over 500 in 2011,” the report said.

“The requirement for refrigeration facilities is based on a throughput of over 1500 bodies per year, additional storage requirements due to cremation, repatriation of bodies overseas, non-national religious requirements and limited if any storage facilities of local undertakers.”

‘Major defects’

Inspectors also noted a number of “major defects”, including water leaking through the roof, dampness, an inability to meet infection control guidelines, poor lighting, issues with storage and ventilation, and “extensive fungus growth”.

The post-mortem room was singled out as being in poor condition, with inspectors commenting on its lack of drainage filtration system, and an inability to retrieve forensic traces washed off human remains as a result.

“The ventilation system within the post mortem room is a major cause of concern for the pathologists and technical services manager… The existing extract system is not HEPA filtered which may pose a risk to the public.

“There is no assurance as to the air quality within or what staff are being exposed to in this environment.”

Meanwhile, the system for storing remains was described as “at the end of its life” and “wholly inadequate”.

“This often results in a situation where decomposed remains cannot be kept in a cold environment, and odours eliminate throughout the whole building,” the report reads.

“Even if the chiller plant was upgraded, the existing room is not physically large enough to expand the storage capacity.”

RKD concluded that building a new mortuary would be a significant upgrade on the existing facility, and was preferable to refurbishing the mortuary for €1.82m. 

They also said that a new build would allow service at the mortuary to continue uninterrupted, whereas extending or refurbishing the existing unit would not.

However, the project did not get approval until 2014, two years after the report was sent to the HSE. The government eventually issued a tender for the new building in May.

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