The families of several dead children and adults are upset they have still not been formally told the deceased’s organs were incinerated following post-mortems at two Irish hospitals.
An HSE audit obtained by the Irish Independent revealed inappropriate disposal of organs at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, and University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
In Our Lady of Lourdes, it was policy to incinerate organs up to 2020.
Records identified three adult and one perinatal organ disposed of during the period of the review, 2018 to 2020. The same policy was in place in Limerick.
Mortuary records identified two post-mortem examinations that used this method of disposal since 2019.
Separately, records were unavailable to verify the disposal method associated with one organ at Connolly Hospital in Dublin in 2019.
The audit said the HSE should determine whether open disclosures are required in relation to the specific incidents identified in the findings.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said the national director of acute operations has liaised with management of hospital groups, including the hospitals regarding the specific incidents, and they are “determining the requirement, if any, for open disclosure”.
The audit uncovered widespread other breaches of care and dignity, with several hospitals holding on for years to the organs of people who died and were the subject of post-mortem examinations.
It followed revelations that the organs from dead children of 18 bereaved parents had been sent by Cork University Maternity Hospital for incineration on two occasions, in March 2020 and April 2020.
The parents had given permission for the disposal of the organs, but had the clear expectation this would involve burial or cremation.
They have been left upset by the new audit and are still awaiting their own review.
Their cases led to a wider review of practices by the HSE, which was carried out by its internal audit division. A set of recommended standards and guidelines around cremation, burial or return of organs to relatives was drawn up in 2012.
The findings showed organs retained at Crumlin Children’s Hospital from 24 separate post-mortem examinations for over a year.
Ten organs were retained for over a year at St Columcille’s Hospital Dublin – the oldest dating to 2017. Ten were retained for over a year at St Vincent’s.
In Tullamore Hospital, eight organs were retained for over a year – some as far back as 2010. Small numbers of organs were retained for over a year in UHL, University Hospital Waterford and Portlaoise Hospital.
In relation to perinatal post-mortem examinations, the audit found retention of organs in several hospitals. In Galway University Hospital, some were retained for 32 months. A shortage of pathologists has been partly blamed.