Minister of State John Halligan has added his voice to calls for an independent investigation into mortuary facilities at University Hospital Waterford as the journalist who broke the story tells of six families who have raised concerns.
He told local radio station WLR that at no point were Oireachtas members told of the concerns of consultants or of the letter sent by consultants to the HSE.
“The way the HSE have handled the concerns is just wrong. The only way out of this is to have an independent inquiry.”
Mr Halligan said he was glad the Taoiseach had issued his apology, “it was the correct thing to do, this is a highly sensitive issue, and he caused upset by his initial remarks, there's no question about that.
“As the story is unfolding it has become more shocking and horrifying, and I think it now lays weight to the necessity of having an independent inquiry, I think we should go to the health committee first of all, an independent inquiry will take much longer, but at least get this into the health committee, bring all the interested bodies to see where we are with this.
“There's no question we need to have this investigated further. At no point were Oireachtas members told about the letter from the consultants on the very serious concerns.
The key issues are the urgent need for a new mortuary and also the way the HSE have handled the complaints was wrong, this is why I think the only way out of this now is for an independent inquiry. I don't think anything else is acceptable.
Meanwhile, on RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show, the journalist who first broke the story, Darren Skelton of the Waterford News and Star, said he had been contacted by six families who were concerned about facilities at the mortuary.
“I've personally had six contacts from families. One person said he identified a body on a corridor, three people have said that they had closed casket funerals and were just told that there was an issue post mortem or they weren't given a reason at all.”
He said that the decision by the Office of the State Pathologist to move post mortems from Waterford to Dublin was expected once the details of conditions at the mortuary had been revealed by the four consultants.
“When news got out it put the State Pathologist in a very difficult position, they had to make the decision to protect the integrity of the office. It's a decision that completely vindicates what the pathologists in Waterford were saying, as soon as it went public this was always going to happen."
The journalist said that people working in the hospital are very angry with the hospital group and also the hospital manager. “She came out and basically rubbished the claims made in the letter. The story is not going away.
The Taoiseach apologised so why can't the Hospital Group and why can't the hospital manager?
He added that the four consultants feel vindicated by State Pathologist decision and say the only reason they are staying in situ is they don't want to discommode families. “That's the situation that happens all the time. I've spoken to doctors and nurses who would love to just walk out because of the conditions they're working in, but don't because of concern for patients and their families.”
Earlier: Waterford mortuary temporarily shut amid 'reports of bodies decomposing on hospital trolleys''
Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane has claimed that two families have lodged complaints about conditions at the mortuary in University Hospital Waterford.
“I know that two complaints have now been made and that's obviously very serious. Only in the last couple of days one family came forward, one family was in my office and I advised them to go make a complaint and these are very, very serious complaints that are now being made,” he told RTE radio’s Morning Ireland.
Yesterday the State Pathologist’s Office announced that it will not use the mortuary at Waterford University Hospital for the time being as a result of the controversy over its condition.
“Management have to examine all these complaints, there is a need now for a full independent examination.
We obviously need a new mortuary, that's the priority but we also need to establish all of the facts. How long has this been happening and why was it allowed to happen for so long?
A spokesman for the South/South West Hospital Group said it had not been informed of the State Pathologist’s decision.
“I contacted the State Pathologist’s office yesterday, I was able to find out by email and yet the hospital management and the hospital group are in the dark, and they knew this was coming down the tracks, they must have known this was coming down the tracks,” added Mr Cullinane.
“The four consultants penned the letter last October of last year to the CEO of the South/South West Hospital Group, it wasn't until March of this year that the group responded to what were very serious claims, so we're calling for a full independent examination of all of these claims. How did it take five months for a response from the HSE?”
He said that people had been shocked and scandalised when they heard reports about what was happening at the mortuary.
“We had reports of bodies decomposing on hospital trolleys, unfortunately, some loved ones were not able to be waked in open caskets, bodies on the floor of the mortuary.
“So it is no surprise that this move (by the State Pathologist’s Office) has been made, because we have to avoid risk and contamination as well, so I don't have a problem with this decision, but I do have a problem that the Government knew in 2004, and the HSE knew, that there was a need for a new mortuary, it was approved in 2013 and we're still waiting for a new mortuary.
“We're still waiting for the tendering process to commence for a new building and what we need is a new mortuary very quickly, to restore confidence for the people of Waterford and for the people of the South East.
“Questions have to be asked how long was this happening at the mortuary in Waterford?
"How many bodies were left decomposing on hospital trolleys and we've also been told that no family was every told of the circumstances at the mortuary."
If that was your loved one who had passed away, who was left on the ground in a mortuary, left on a trolley, the body decomposing.
"I would imagine you would want to know the full circumstances of what happened.”