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'Serious questions raised': Waterford hospital says it has not received any complaints about mortuary

There have been calls for hospital management to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee “as a matter of urgency”.

University Hospital Waterford
University Hospital Waterford
Image: Google Maps

Updated Apr 29th 2019, 8:42 PM

THE SOUTH-SOUTH West Hospital group has said it has not received any complaints from members of the public in relation to the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford.

Last week concerns were raised about dead bodies being left on trolleys in the corridors of UHW’s mortuary.

In a statement released today, as spokesperson for the SSWHG, which runs the hospital, confirmed that the group “has not received any complaint from any member of the public regarding the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford”.

“The SSWHG and University Hospital Waterford can confirm that it is not in receipt of any incident report form from any staff member in relation to the Mortuary at University Hospital Waterford.”

The statement added that both the group and hospital “currently have no evidence that would substantiate the claims contained in recent correspondence”.

It noted that, in relation to contact from bereaved families and funeral directors since the initial media reports, UHW received a query from one family and is engaging with them. 

The statement added that UHW is “a hospice-friendly hospital” and wishes to “reassure the public that all deceased patients are treated with respect and dignity”.

Leaking fluids 

According to a letter signed by four consultant pathologists at the hospital, which was made public last week and first seen by the Waterford News and Star and the Irish Times, “due to inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities, most bodies lie on trolleys in corridors, often leaking body fluids on to the floor”.

The letter warned that bodies decomposing in the mortuary’s corridors lead to closed-coffin funerals, as well as “expose the public visiting hospitals to the odours of a postmortem room”.

It called for urgent remedial action at the mortuary and postmortem facilities, and was sent to Gerry O’Dwyer, CEO of the SSWHG

Today’s statement noted that the group and hospital “have been fully aware of the challenge associated with the mortuary infrastructure for some considerable time”.

It stated that the development of a new replacement mortuary has been part of the HSE’s capital plan since 2014, noting that planning permission for the proposed new mortuary was received in 2016.

In addition, efforts to resolve the matter resulted in a replacement mortuary for UHW being placed on the HSE’s capital programme. Approval to proceed to tender was received in March 2019.

“The current programme for this will see the new facility being delivered within approximately two years,” the statement added.

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Last Friday, the SSWHG said, until the new facility is built, the short to medium-term plan is as follows:

  • A mobile refrigeration unit will be on site, installed and available for use within one to two weeks
  • As a short to medium-term plan, a minor extension to the existing mortuary and an additional refrigeration unit will be on site and available for use within eight to 10 weeks

Oireachtas Health Committee

A number of Oireachtas members from Waterford met with the SSWH board and UHW management today to discuss the situation.

They have called on representatives from both the hospital and the group to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee “as a matter of urgency”.

Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the board “failed to verify any of the concerns raised at the meeting”.

In fact, they said there is no evidence to substantiate the claims. We are now seeing claims and counterclaims being aired without coming any closer to the truth surrounding the facilities at UHW.

“Bereaved families in Waterford and across the South-East deserve the truth about their loved ones. The claims raise serious questions that must be answered.

“By appearing before the Oireachtas Health Committee, we hope to get to the bottom of this issue and find out what the true state of affairs is in UHW,” he added. 

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Órla Ryan

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