Tuesday 20 August 2019

Consultants' body criticises Government for treatment of doctors in hospital mortuary exposé

University Hospital Waterford. Photo: Tony Gavin
University Hospital Waterford. Photo: Tony Gavin

Eilish O’Regan and Cormac McQuinn

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said it is “alarmed” at the Government response to a group of four hospital doctors who highlighted their concerns about sub-standard conditions at a Waterford hospital mortuary.

The IHCA was responding to the ongoing row which followed revelations last week that four senior doctors at University Hospital Waterford claimed that conditions are so cramped, bodies have to placed in corridors and a lack of temperature control caused some to leak and decompose.

The hospital said it has no evidence to substantiate the claims and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the issues highlighted as “strange.”

However, in response today the IHCA backed the doctors involved.

The response by Government  has been to  question the validity of these concerns rather than tacking the issue in a much more timely manner is disappointing, said IHCA President Dr Donal O’ Hanlon.

“The response in recent days from health service management and the Government is disappointing as it has not focused on the risks and concerns highlighted by the consultant pathologists.

“It is clear that the consultants have, in the public interest, highlighted genuine issues and risks associated with the insufficiency of mortuary facilities.

“We need a culture change that encourages consultants and our hospital colleagues to disclose their concerns about health service delivery risks.

"Otherwise the quality and safety of patient care is at risk and the fundamental consultant role of patient advocate will be undermined. Patient safety and quality of care must be central for staff and management alike.”

Prof Rob Landers, one of the pathologists  at University Hospital Waterford who wrote to the hospital last October outlining their concerns,said the recent response from the hospital was an attempt to discredit the doctors who had “put their reputations on the line in order to improve conditions at the hospital”.

He added: “For the HSE to claim they were unaware of the issues and risks associated with the mortuary is at best disingenuous.”

He said the HSE at regional and group level were warned of the conditions as early as  2004  and the retired State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy had written about her concerns.

Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t know if those claims are true or not but it doesn’t seem that there’s any evidence to support them and certainly those who made them haven’t put forward any evidence to support them.

“What really matters is that the new mortuary be built, it is being built, the planning permission is secured and the project is going out to tender,” he added.

At a post Cabinet press conference today Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was challenged on remarks where he said there isn't any evidence to back up the claims about Waterford Hospital.

He was asked if he thought the consultants were lying.

Mr Varadkar replied: "No, I didn't say that. What I said was a statement of fact.

"There is a dispute about what the true facts are.

"The claim in the letter is that most deceased people were on trolleys and decomposing - that's what was claimed."

He added: "It seems now that the picture may be a little bit more different to that".

Mr Varadkar said that the Hospital Group has said there isn't any evidence to support the claim and that undertakers, coroners, other staff, and families haven't made complaints.

He said: "So I don't know what the absolute truth is, whether it's true, untrue or exaggerated.

"But the only way we can get to the bottom of it is through further investigation and I know that's being considered by the joint Oireachtas committee or by HIQA."

He was asked whether Sinn Féin's call for an independent investigation is warranted.

Mr Varadkar said: "The first thing you do when you carry out any sort of investigation, and HIQA can carry out an independent investigation, is to seek evidence to back up any claim.

He added: "just writing something in a letter or saying something isn't in itself proof or evidence."

A spokesman for Hiqa said it is not investigating the mortuary issues.

“That is not correct .We have no powers to investigate mortuaries,” said a Hiqa spokesman.

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