Monday 19 August 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'Work needed to ensure all people are treated with dignity in death'

 

'In the hierarchy of priorities for funding, the hospital mortuary can end up down the scale, overtaken by the need for extra beds, medical equipment or a new ward' (stock photo)
'In the hierarchy of priorities for funding, the hospital mortuary can end up down the scale, overtaken by the need for extra beds, medical equipment or a new ward' (stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Four in 10 people who pass away this year will die in a hospital.

And while there has been much good work done in enhancing end-of-life care, there needs to be more focus on the physical environment of hospital mortuaries, so often tucked away in old buildings at the back of the hospital campus.

The practical role of the mortuary is to provide a safe and secure environment in which deceased patients can be accommodated until an undertaker has been chosen. It also needs to deliver the facilities to allow post mortems to be carried out in a safe and hygienic manner.

Although several hospital mortuaries have been refurbished in recent years, standards remain variable.

The distressing revelations that conditions in the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford are so poor that dead bodies have had to be placed on trolleys, and in some cases have decomposed due to lack of proper temperature control, provide a stark glimpse into these places of grief for relatives of loved ones.

It goes without saying that a civilised society expects that, after death, someone's body will be accorded the same dignity and respect as during life.

But in the hierarchy of priorities for funding, the hospital mortuary can end up down the scale, overtaken by the need for extra beds, medical equipment or a new ward.

The Design and Dignity project, which involves the Irish Hospice Foundation and HSE and has provided funding for various aspects of end-of-life care in the last nine years, has helped show the way for the dying and deceased.

But much more is needed. New mortuary spaces in recent years have included a dignified area for families to view the deceased.

Sligo University Hospital and the Mercy Hospital mortuaries have benefited.

There has been inclusion of comfortable waiting areas and where possible a garden area.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall published 'A Good Death' in 2014 in response to the complaints he received about the care provided to dying patients and how it affected their families.

His progress report last year showed improvement but he also pointed to aspects needing urgent attention.

These mostly related to problems with communication. One woman spoke of her upset when she was told it was not clear when her "husband's demise" would be.

Another family was told their father's condition was "incompatible with life".

He encouraged hospitals to carry out a survey of bereaved relatives which can provide invaluable insights into the shortcomings they might otherwise be silent about. The Ombudsman pointed out the key to improving services is through measuring and monitoring performance against best practice standards.

Irish Independent

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