Update 5pm: The Taoiseach says that holding an investigation into claims by consultants that dead bodies were left decomposing on a mortuary corridor at University Hospital Waterford is not one of his priorities.
A letter signed by four consultants working at University Hospital Waterford last October was made public last week following on from a Freedom of Information request by the Waterford News and Star. The letter claimed that dead patients had been left decomposing on the mortuary corridor, which in turn had led to a number of closed-coffin funerals.
The Taoiseach’s initial reaction last Tuesday was that he had seen no evidence to support the claims. He went on to describe the claims as “a strange story”.
The South/Southwest Hospital Group said it hasn’t received any complaints from the public nor hospital staff.
Asked today, while on a visit to Limerick, if his opinion has changed, and if he now sees weight in the consultant’s claims, the Taoiseach responded that he “cared most about patients and their families” and that his priority is the construction of a new mortuary.
“What I care about is people being treated with dignity when they're alive and when they're dead. Nobody disputes that fact the mortuary needs to be upgraded. That’s why planning permission was sought for it and granted, and that’s why it is going to tender."
“There is very clearly and very evidently a dispute about the facts. You have consultants, four of them anyway, saying one thing and management (at the hospital) saying the other,” he said.
Mr Varadkar also said: “I don't know where the truth lies, whether its true or untrue, or a grain of truth and a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s not what I'm about. The most important thing from my point of view is that we go ahead and build a new mortuary."
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has called on the Taoiseach to apologise to the four consultant pathologists for calling into question the truthfulness of their internal letter about conditions at the mortuary in Waterford University Hospital.
He said: “I was taken aback by the comment yesterday of the Taoiseach about the letter sent last year by four consultant pathologists in Waterford University Hospital and I think he should apologise. By implying there is a dispute about the ‘true facts’ the Taoiseach has resorted to Trump style tactics to undermine unpalatable revelations that have shocked people."
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar also told reporters that US president, Donald Trump, may visit Ireland in June, but that no arrangements are yet in place.
Additional reporting by David Raleigh
By Vivienne Clarke
Update 7.57am: The president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Dr Donal O’Hanlon, has expressed alarm at comments by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about concerns raised in relation to mortuary facilities in University Hospital Waterford.
Mr Varadkar had told reporters in Waterford on Tuesday that while he didn’t know if the consultants’ claims were “true or not . . . it doesn’t seem that there’s any evidence to support them and certainly those who made them haven’t put forward any evidence to support them”.
The stark conditions were outlined by four consultant pathologists in a letter to Gerry O’Dwyer, chief executive of the South – South West Hospital Group in Cork last October.
The letter warned that the mortuary lacks sufficient refrigeration and the situation is so serious that some bodies simply decompose, causing “almost unspeakable” distress to families.
Dr O’Hanlon told RTE radio’s Morning Ireland today that hospital staff need to be able to voice their concerns. It was important that consultants and other health care staff be able to advocate for patients so their care can be improved, he said.
He said that University Hospital Waterford had said it was aware of the challenges and there had been recognition of the problems when temporary refrigeration was installed.
“The best health systems run on a culture of openness and accountability. Staff need to be encouraged to highlight issues.
“The gist of what he’s (the Taoiseach) saying is that there’s no evidence. It’s early stages to say that. There hasn’t been full engagement or a review.
“These consultants are there day in, day out for years.
“The next step is for the hospital to have a full review of the contents of the (consultants’) letter and to follow up.”