No clarity on 'interim arrangements' to address conditions at Waterford hospital mortuary

There is as yet no clarity around the “interim arrangements” the HSE said it is examining in order to address intolerable conditions in the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford (UHW).

Consultant pathologist Professor Rob Landers said it was “disingenuous” of the HSE to say it was now putting arrangements in place to address issues “they’ve been aware of from their own report since 2012”.

He said pathologists needed to know when these arrangements will be in place.

“Furthermore we need absolute clarity on when the mortuary will be replaced, and we need defined timelines. The HSE has a history of long-fingering things. It is not enough to say that it is a “priority”. That means nothing,” Professor Landers said.

Professor Landers is one of four pathologists at UHW who wrote last October to Gerry O’Dwyer, head of the South/South West Hospital Group (SSHWG), outlining in detail the unacceptable state of the mortuary and post-mortem facilities, where “most bodies lie on trolleys in corridors, often leaking body fluids onto the floor” due to inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities.

The doctors said “bodies decompose in the corridors leading to closed coffin funerals...The trauma imposed on the bereaved is almost unspeakable”.

After details of the letter were revealed in the Waterford News and Star, the HSE said it was “a priority” to replace the mortuary, that the development was 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 20-month construction programme,” the HSE said.

In the meantime, it was examining interim arrangements.

A hospital spokesperson said: "The options being explored include the conversion of an existing room and/or procurement or leasing of a modular type unit."

The mortuary was deemed unfit for purpose as far back as 2004. A HSE report in 2012 outlined its unsuitability.

Approximately 600 post mortem (PM) examinations are carried out there annually. The mortuary has storage for eight bodies but sources said between two and three storage spaces are usually occupied by deceased non-nationals, awaiting repatriation, while two or three more spaces are occupied by surgically removed limbs awaiting burial. The upshot is just two to three spaces are available on a daily basis.

Professor Landers said the mortuary was an unsafe place to work and the public was also at risk as a result of “unfiltered air being sucked out of the PM suite” near a residential area.

The doctors wrote again to Mr O’Dwyer last month saying if the situation did not improve, they would have to withdraw their PM service.

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said it is “not acceptable that consultants and clinical directors have to pen letters to bring attention to the harrowing conditions they are working under”.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said: "The Minister has made it clear to the HSE that this project needs to be progressed as a matter of priority and funding will be provided."

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