Tuesday 18 June 2019

'Hygiene' flagged 10 years ago at troubled mortuary

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

Maeve Sheehan

Auditors warned of urgent need for "refurbishment and modernisation" in Irish mortuaries 10 years ago, but several have still not been upgraded.

As a third family came forward with concerns about the degrading conditions at the mortuary at Waterford University Hospital last week, it has emerged that "hygiene" and "health and safety" issues were singled out as problems in an audit in 2009.

The problems came back to haunt the mortuary when four consultant pathologists complained of bodies on trolleys, due to a lack of space, often leaking bodily fluids, with relatives unable to view the remains as a result of gaseous decomposition. The scandal came to public attention, only when the consultants' internal letter to management was released under a Freedom of Information request.

Waterford University Hospital has said it had no evidence to substantiate the pathologists' claims and its handling of the controversy is now likely to be raised within the hospital group's board when it meets later this month.

Margaret Murphy, the patient advocate on the South/South West Hospital Group board, told the Sunday Independent she was unaware of the issues at Waterford hospital mortuary. "I think boards, in general, are in a difficult situation because information is fed to boards and our capacity to interrogate that information... is something that needs to be looked into. As a board member I would be disturbed that I learned such a thing from the media."

The State pathology service confirmed last week that it will no longer conduct post-mortems at the mortuary, sources say because of possible "contamination of evidence".

Three families have now contacted local representatives with concerns about their loved ones. The latest is a Kilkenny family who told local TD Bobby Aylward that their relative returned from the mortuary in a closed casket against the family's wishes and without explanation. Mr Aylward raised the family's concerns in the Dail last week. The Sinn Fein TD, David Cullinane, said two families contacted him and made complaints.

An audit of post-mortem practices in 2009, by the Health Service Executive, highlighted the dilapidated state of hospital mortuaries in several counties. Auditors singled out Waterford's mortuary for its "poor hygiene, poor health and safety" among other issues.

Sunday Independent

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