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New Waterford mortuary would have cost taxpayer €1m less if built 'when it should have been'

Last month the HSE confirmed that funding of €5.7 million has been approved for the development.

One HSE manager in 2017 described problems with the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford as
One HSE manager in 2017 described problems with the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford as "one of the highest risk issues in the South East".
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THE NEW MORTUARY at University Hospital Waterford would have cost at least €1 million less to build had it been given the go-ahead as recommended two years ago.

TheJournal.ie, through documents released to its investigative platform Noteworthy.ie, has learned that HSE staff pushed for the plan for a new facility to go to tender in 2017, and estimated it would cost €4.6 million to bring to completion.

It emerged in April that four pathologists had raised concerns in late 2018 about the state of the mortuary, describing it as “unsafe for staff, visitors and the general public”.

The letter also stated that due to inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities, “most bodies lie on corridors, often leaking body fluids onto the floor”.

The facility had in fact 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. However the project remained in a queue, without a firm commitment of funding.  

After details of the pathologists’ letter were revealed in a news report in the Waterford News and Star in April, the Minister for Health Simon Harris said construction on a new mortuary would commence before the end of the year.

Last month the HSE confirmed that funding of €5.7 million has been approved for the development.

Correspondence released under Freedom of Information by Noteworthy reveals that a pre-tender cost check by the HSE in 2017 estimated the new facility could have been delivered for €4.6 million at that time.

Emails between staff in the HSE’s Estates unit, which is responsible for properties and new developments, show requests from managers in August 2017 to proceed with the tender for the new mortuary. 

“Despite inflation uplift and some increases to design detail, the cost estimate remains within [the] original approved sum [of €4.6 million],” one wrote to an Assistant National Director of Estates.

He wrote again in October 2017, requesting approval to advertise for contractors and to go to tender, describing the existing unit as being “in very poor condition”.

“Local services and staff are greatly concerned that progress has come to a standstill. There is significant risk of return by Health and Safety Authority and likely enforcement notice will issue. In my view this is one of the highest risk issues in the South East.”

In March, after the Waterford News and Star had requested access to the pathologists’ letter, this same manager wrote an email providing up to date costing on the project: 

The original request to go to tender, and cost report dates back to August 2017. At that stage the overall budget cost was still within the approved budget of €4.6 million. To bring those costs up to present day we would need to add approximately 10% to 12%. 

He said the building specifications would have to be upgraded to meet new energy requirements that came into force in January this year.

“I would therefore expect the current project cost to be approximately €5.6m, including VAT. We will only really know when we have tested the market and gone to tender.”

Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Culliane said this correspondence “shows that if they had done it at the time, it would have been cheaper, which is the same with lots of these other projects”.

“This was approved in the capital plan [for 2014] but funding wasn’t released and I suppose that only happened after the recent controversy,” he said.

Concerns have been raised for years about the poor state of the mortuary and for those reasons alone, it should have been done years ago.

“When they drag their feet on projects there is a cost that has to be paid on it. And there is a human cost too, to the staff who had to work there in those conditions for the last six or seven years. ”

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie about the delay and associated additional cost, the Department of Health said “capital approval has been received for a new mortuary in University Hospital Waterford”.

“The tendering process will commence shortly with the expectation that construction will commence before the end of the year.”

With additional reporting from Ken Foxe and the team at Noteworthy.ie – find out more about their work here.

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