By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Conor Kane, and Elaine Loughlin
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must apologise directly to families whose dead relatives were treated “appallingly” at University Hospital Waterford after it emerged that two families have made formal complaints.
Opposition parties demanded Mr Varadkar meet with anyone affected after he twice rejected calls to apologise for his “dismissive” approach to four doctors who first raised the concerns.
Despite a week of denials from the Government and the HSE, the hospital confirmed yesterday that two families have made formal complaints — including relatives of one person who, the Irish Examiner understands, was buried in a closed-casket funeral.
While declining to comment on specific cases, a UHW spokesperson said the facility “is currently engaging with the families concerned”, that it will “always take complaints very seriously”, and treats deceased patients “with respect and dignity”.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly said despite the hospital’s claim, the fact that two families have made complaints over the treatment of deceased relatives means Mr Varadkar must now apologise to anyone affected.
“The Taoiseach has either lost the plot on this or been sold a pup by the HSE. He is being very badly advised on this. I don’t care what he has said, he should meet with and apologise to the families involved,” said Mr Kelly.
Asked about the issue yesterday, Mr Varadkar twice declined to fully apologise for his response to date.
While accepting he “regrets” the tone of his comments questioning if the doctors who first raised the concerns are right, he stopped short of a full apology, saying:
“I didn’t question what they said, I just pointed out that there are different accounts from different members of staff at the hospital and I don’t think it’s for me to adjudicate on that.
It has separately emerged that the four consultants who first raised the mortuary concerns warned management in March they may remove their services after being left to wait for six months for any response to their concerns.
Sinn Féin’s Waterford TD David Cullinane released a letter outlining the warning yesterday, alongside a separate letter from a senior HSE official warning HSE financial officials of the “appalling” standards at the morgue last July.
The Government has rejected calls for an independent inquiry, saying the hospital and the Health Information Quality Authority could examine the case.
However, Hiqa said last night that the morgue concerns are outside its remit.