Hospital group apologises as investigation takes place at Cork University Maternity Hospital into incineration of organs of 18 babies

Hospital group apologises as investigation takes place at Cork University Maternity Hospital into incineration of organs of 18 babies

The investigation was launched after Cork couple Leona Bermingham and Glenn Callanan discovered that the brain of their baby son Lee was incinerated in Antwerp, unknown to them, RTÉ reports. 

THIS STORY CONTAINS DISTRESSING CONTENT

AN investigation is underway at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) into the incineration of baby’s organs without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

The investigation was launched after Cork couple Leona Bermingham and Glenn Callanan discovered that the brain of their baby son Lee was incinerated in Antwerp, unknown to them, RTÉ reports. 

Lee died on September 18 2019, hours after Leona had given birth to him and twin brother Lewis by emergency C-section. Their story will be aired tonight on RTÉ Investigates.

According to RTÉ, a post mortem was held into his death. His parents later discovered that his brain had been sent to Antwerp for incineration.

Documents released under Freedom of Information reveal this was along with the organs of 17 other babies. The organs had been in storage in the morgue at Cork University Hospital after being released by the pathology department following post mortem examinations.

According to internal correspondence, mortuary staff at CUH became aware early last year that its burial plot in Curraghkippane’s St Mary’s Cemetery was full and the organs could not be buried.

The organs were sent for incineration in late March and early April last year, because space needed to be freed up at the morgue because of the possibility of increased deaths at the hospital following the arrival of Covid-19.

An incident report was sent to the Department of Health in mid May last year, according to RTÉ Investigates.

The Department of Health has told RTÉ Investigates “The HSE will now confirm… that they are in compliance with the HSE’s Standards… for Post-mortem Examinations 2012.” 

The South/South West Hospital Group confirmed to RTÉ that it has commissioned an investigation into the events that led to the incineration of baby organs, which is now at an early stage.

STATEMENT

This morning a statement was issued on behalf of the South / South West Hospital Group in relation to the matter.

"The South/ South West Hospital Group, CUH and CUMH have apologised to 18 families whose perinatal organs that has been retained by the hospital were sent for incineration instead of being buried or cremated as had been agreed to by all of the parents prior to a post mortem. The Group deeply regret that this distressing incident occurred and acknowledge that a serious error was made, and are truly sorry for the additional distress this has caused to grieving families.

"Hospital Management became aware of the incident in late April 2020 and on 11th & 12th May 2020 all parents who were affected by the incident were contacted and full disclosure took place. Recognising that it would be difficult for bereaved parents to be told about the incident, Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) volunteered to take the lead role in openly disclosing the error and apologising to the parents. The supports of the CUMH bereavement and pregnancy loss team has been and remains in place to provide ongoing contact, care and support as required by the parents. This has been provided not only as a result of the incident but also in acknowledgement of the impact of the delay in the review process.

"The incident is confined to perinatal organs which were stored in the hospital mortuary between May 2019 & March 2020. The incineration occurred on two occasions 25th March & 2nd April 2020.

"In May 2020 Cork University Hospital also commissioned an external expert review of the incident. Disappointingly there were significant delays in the review process, most notably in getting the appropriate external expertise that a review of this nature requires. However, the review did commence in late April this year and it is expected will be completed late October / early November. The review’s findings and recommendations will be shared with the families affected and then with the wider HSE.

"The review will establish the factual circumstances leading up to the incident. However, in order to provide some context, this action occurred when hospitals were preparing to significantly increase their mortuary capacity for mass fatalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020 it was widely reported that healthcare expert epidemiologists were predicting there could be between 80,000 and 100,000 deaths in Ireland from COVID-19.

"It is important to note that CUH have categorially established that all perinatal organs retained since 2nd April 2020 have been buried and there is no possibility that this matter has affected other families beyond those already identified.

"The South/ South West Hospital Group and CUH deeply regret that this distressing incident occurred and acknowledge that a serious error was made, and are truly sorry for the additional distress this has caused to grieving families.

"Since becoming aware of the issue, all parents affected have been informed; the error has been acknowledged and a sincere apology has been offered. The parents have been and will continue to be offered on going contact, care and support.

"It is important to reiterate that this matter has affected no other families beyond those that we have communicated with."

  • An RTÉ Investigates report will air on Prime Time tonight, Tuesday at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.

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