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Dead babies buried in the coffins of strangers

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HSE director general Tony O'Brien

HSE director general Tony O'Brien

HSE director general Tony O'Brien

THE bodies of deceased babies were placed in coffins with unrelated adults for burial up to the 1980s, it has emerged.

Documents have revealed how such "tandem burials" were used by a number of hospitals across the country up until around 30 years ago.

Briefing documents for the period also revealed how it was unclear if the families of both the deceased were always informed of the practice.

The burials happened in "exceptional circumstances," where a newborn died in a hospital and other options for burial, such as on a hospital grounds, or religious plot were "not selected".

A letter by HSE director general Tony O'Brien about the practice was obtained by RTE news under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

It was sent to the former secretary general of the Department of Health Dr Ambrose McLoughlin, who stepped down in August this year, as a briefing note about the issue.

"Our understanding is that the remains would have been placed with adult remains and that ideally the awareness and understanding of both families involved would have been sought, though this is not guaranteed," Mr O'Brien said.

The issue came to light during the summer after a mother contacted the HSE about her case. Mr O'Brien told Dr McLoughlin that the practice was confirmed by current hospital staff, particularly mortuary staff, employed during the period. Retired hospital staff also confirmed the practice when contacted.

Poor record keeping by hospitals, along with the fact that some staff involved are deceased has hampered establishing the exact details of the practice.

In a number of cases the practice was used out of concern that the baby was buried in "consecrated" ground.

According to the note, the HSE is currently developing a national set of standards for bereavement care in maternity services, which are at an advanced stage.

He said that should it receive extra requests from mothers or parents in similar circumstances, it will provide all relevant information and support that is available, considering the historic context.

hnews@herald.ie


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