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Family of deceased relative send complaint to Waterford hospital over mortuary facilities

Management at University Hospital in Waterford have received a complaint about mortuary facilities at the hospital from the family of a deceased person whose remains were kept in conditions which have been described by pathologists as "unfit for purpose".

The complaint from a family follows a separate "query" from another family who inquired about mortuary conditions after it emerged last week that four consultant pathologists at UHW wrote to management last October to voice their concerns about the substandard nature of the facility.

In response to a query, the PR company engaged by the South/ Southwest Hospital Group said it never comments on individual cases.

The hospital confirmed, however, in a statement, that to date it has received "queries" from two families relating to two different cases.

"The hospital is currently engaging with the families concerned," the statement said.

Hospital management wish to confirm that UHW always take complaints very seriously and have very clear guidelines and protocols regarding the investigation and management of complaints, including liaison with the individual(s) making the complaint.

The statement added that UHW "is a hospice friendly hospital and wish to reassure the public that all deceased patients are treated with respect and dignity".

The hospital and Government have faced a storm of criticism since last week's reports regarding the letter written by pathologists last October about the mortuary.

In their letter, the four pathologists described the current facilities as "unsafe for staff, visitors and the general public and represent a gross affront to the dignity of the deceased and bereaved"

The mortuary was deemed "unfit for purpose" as far back as 2004, they pointed out, and because of "inadequate body storage and refrigeration facilities, most bodies lie on trolleys in corridors, often leaking body fluids onto the floor".

A response by the CEO of the hospital group, Gerry O'Dwyer, six weeks ago said he had asked the HSE's new assistant national director of estates, Mark Kane, to visit the current facilities and discuss the pathologists' "ongoing concerns".

Another follow-up letter to Mr O'Dwyer by the four pathologists reiterated "the appalling lack of dignity afforded to deceased patients due to the conditions of the mortuary facilities" at UHW and said that "body storage on the floor of the mortuary" was required recently because of a "surge in activity".

The hospital has said it is providing a mobile mortuary facility in the near future while a project for a new, permanent mortuary is due to go to tender following a grant of planning permission in 2016 and approval in the HSE's capital plan.

"The current programme for this will see the new facility being delivered within approximately two years," the hospital said in a statement issued by their PR company last week.

A "short to medium term plan of a minor extension" to the existing mortuary and an additional refrigeration unit is also planned for the site within 8-10 weeks, it said.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar came under fire for comments made in Waterford earlier this week when he said "no evidence has been brought forward to support" the pathologists' claims.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has called on the Taoiseach to apologise to the four Waterford-based pathologists while Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane, who is a TD for Waterford, called for a "full and independent investigation" into the whole issue.