The HSE is failing both the living and the dead in the South East says the PRO for Health Equality, Matt Shanahan.
His comment to the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk follows revelations that dead bodies have been left lying on trolleys at University Hospital Waterford (UHW), leaking bodily fluids on to corridors and making closed-coffin funerals unavoidable in some cases.
A damning letter by four consultant pathologists to the HSE outlined that the mortuary lacks sufficient refrigeration and the situation is so serious that some bodies simply decompose, causing “almost unspeakable” distress to families, the four warned.
Prof Rob Landers, one of the four consultants, told RTE radio’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan show that conditions in the mortuary are “quite primitive” and pose a risk to staff, visitors and the public.
The situation requires immediate attention, he said as it affords very little dignity to the deceased.
Staff try to ensure there are no delays because the consequence of delays are “unfortunate and distressing”, he said.
Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, who is from Waterford and is also an undertaker, said the situation was “totally unacceptable” and that the HSE was “wide open for criticism” and he wanted to know why the HSE had not been prepared to respond to the Freedom of Information (FOI) request from local newspaper The Waterford News and Star.
There are questions to be answered by the HSE, the Minister for Health and the Hospital Board who, he said were “meant to oversee the hospital for the public.”
The journalist who submitted the FOI request, Darren Skelton told his local radio station WLR that he had been pursuing the issue since early this year when he was tipped off about the letter from the consultants. His initial request was denied by the HSE who said it was not in the public interest.
This is another example of how people, even those who have passed on, are being overlooked in the South East in relation to health funding, said Mr Shanahan.
He said that UHW is the most underfunded hospital in the country. “This is all about the fact that this hospital has not seen the resources that it requires. We have come out very badly, in terms of the hospital group structure.
“The whole thing is a health hazard and the HSE has acknowledged this themselves, that this is a significant health and safety hazard for their own staff and for the clinical staff, so this is not news for the HSE, maybe to the HSE nationally, this has been known for some time and has been known to people in the undertaking business in the region as well.
“We need support from government and we're not getting it.
“The HSE needs to get serious about funding this hospital properly - we have a number of major deficits that don't exist in other hospitals in the State and they need to be addressed.”
In a statement this afternoon a spokesperson for South/South West Hospital Group said it is a priority for both the South/South West Hospital Group and the National Acute Hospitals Division of the HSE to replace the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford.
"This development is included in the Draft Capital Plan sent to the Department of Health for approval. We would expect to progress to selecting a contractor and commencing construction of a new mortuary in the final quarter of this year, with a twenty month construction programme.
"The design phase of the development has already been completed and the estimated cost of construction is €5m.
Fianna Fáil TD for Waterford Mary Butler is demanding answers to the HSE’s delay in expanding mortuary facilities in University Hospital Waterford.
She told RTE radio’s News at One that she had been aware of capacity issues at the mortuary, but had not known of the extent of the problem until the letter from consultants was publicised this week.
Members of the Oireachtas meet with the HSE on a regular basis to discuss capital projects, as recently as April 5th, she said, but they had not been informed about problems in the mortuary.
It was not appropriate for the HSE to give “selective briefings”.
Details of facilities were “shameful and distressing” The people of Waterford were “appalled and felt let down” she said.
Ireland has always treated death with dignity, it was not acceptable that the dead and the recently bereaved were being treated in this way.
Responding to a HSE statement that interim measures are to be introduced, she asked why they had not been put in place before? She pointed out that there is plenty of space for refridgeration facilities on the site.
On the same programme the Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath said he will be raising the issue at Cabinet next week and with the Department of Health.