Friday 20 September 2019

Doctor behind letter detailing remains 'decomposing on trolleys in hospital' says situation is 'intolerable'

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

One of the four consultant pathologists who wrote to the HSE about the conditions of the mortuary in Waterford said the letter was "generated" as there is no sign of a new facility, and conditions are intolerable.

Speaking on the 'Today with Miriam' programme on RTÉ Radio One today, Professor Rob Landers described the situation in Waterford as "very bad" and immediate action was required.

Prof Landers told broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan he "wanted to apologise for any distress the release of publication of this letter is causing to people".

The letter, first seen by the Waterford News & Star newspaper, says a lack of refrigeration facilities and cramped conditions has led to a situation where bodies of the deceased are being placed on hospital trolleys and are decomposing.

They say that corpses have leaked bodily fluids into corridors and many families have had to have closed-coffin funerals for their relatives because of the condition of their remains.

The letter was written by Prof Landers, Dr Fergus MacSweeney, Dr Nigam Shah and Dr Christine Shilling, all of University Hospital Waterford (UHW).

It was addressed to Gerry O'Dwyer, chief executive of the South-South West Hospital Group in Cork. Prof Landers confirmed this morning the letter was sent on October 18th last year.

Speaking this morning, Prof Landers said conditions in the UHW mortuary are "quite primitive", and the building was described as "unfit for purpose" in 2004.

"We tolerated conditions in the hope that we would get a new facility, but that has not come to pass.

"It has never come to pass, and that generated this letter sent to the HSE last year."

The letter asked for "immediate action", Prof Landers said.

He added that the conditions they had written about "pose a risk to staff, visitors and the public" visiting the mortuary.

He said the situation also affords "very little dignity to the deceased".

"It is very unpleasant and distressing," he added.

The mortuary provides a service for the south east region 365 days a year. Prof Landers said staff at the mortuary do their best to send the bodies of the deceased to undertakers as quickly as they can, but sometimes it was not possible.

"We do not have the facilities to look after them properly," he added.

Prof Landers said they wrote the letter on October 18th last year as "we had exhausted all over avenues in the HSE" and he wasn't seeing any progress on a new mortuary.

Prof Landers said he made his own enquiries with contacts within the HSE, and he had heard that a new mortuary for UHW would not be progressed until 2022 or 2023.

"We felt in all good conscience that we couldn't tolerate the conditions any longer," he said, adding they wrote the letter to get the issue into the public domain.

The letter stated: "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 says.

"Bodies decompose in the corridors, leading to closed-coffin funerals with relatives unable to view the remains as a result of gaseous decomposition. The trauma imposed on the bereaved is almost unspeakable," it adds.

"The cramped facilities expose the public to the noise and odours of a working postmortem room when visiting the public areas of the mortuary for identification/viewing purposes and funerals," the four explained.

The pathologists’ letter warned that the mortuary poses an environmental and health risks to the public, because of the danger of infection spreading and unfiltered air being circulated.

The doctors have called for urgent remedial action at the mortuary and an improvement to postmortem facilities, saying existing conditions are a "gross affront to the dignity of the deceased and the bereaved".

In a statement to on the letter, the HSE confirmed that University Hospital Waterford has recently received approval for a new replacement Mortuary Building.

"It is expected that the request for tender will be issued shortly with the expectation that construction will commence before the end of this year. University Hospital Waterford is currently examining interim arrangements to address the issues raised." they added.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News