The Dead Can Wait


From top: Yesterday’s Waterford News and Star, Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, Waterford News and Star journalist Darren Skelton

Four pathologists claimed last October that the conditions at the University Hospital Waterford’s mortuary are so bad that dead bodies are often left on trolleys with body fluids from the remains leaking onto the floor.

This was first reported yesterday by Waterford News and Star journalist Darren Skelton.

Meanwhile, three weeks ago, in the Seanad…

Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, from Waterford, spoke about plans for a new mortuary at University Hospital Waterford and he criticised the decision of the HSE to allocate money for the care of the dead over the living.

Mr Coffey, who was junior housing minister from July 2014 until May 2016 and a Waterford TD from 2011 to 2016, said:

“I was horrified to read a plan that was recently disclosed to me. The plan was a report by a review team into University Hospital Waterford in December 2014. This report was carried out by the HSE to review the acute services as part of the reconfiguration plans.

In this report, I was horrified to discover that the HSE has approved more than €5.4 million for a new mortuary for University Hospital Waterford at a time when all public representatives, all parties, consultants, the public and everybody in the region are crying out for an investment of €2.4 million for a second catheterisation laboratory for cardiac services in the region.

I am dismayed and cannot believe that the HSE can invest €5.4 million into looking after the dead when it cannot invest €2.4 million to look after the living. I am horrified and wanted to bring it to the Minister of State’s attention.

“I believe this is happening because we do not have the oversight, governance and accountability that was foreseen when these hospital groups were first established.Somebody needs to call the HSE  to task. I have tried to do it but, unfortunately, to date I have failed.

We need the political system to work and these bureaucrats need to be asked to explain why this investment is being put in the wrong place.”

Further to this…

Yesterday, Mr Skelton reported that the HSE refused to give him a letter written by four pathologists to the CEO of the South/South West Hospital Group last October, in which they outlined their grave concerns about the mortuary.

Mr Skelton had sought the letter via a Freedom of Information request.

But the HSE rejected Mr Skelton’s request, claiming the letter was “contrary to public interest”.

The HSE also said releasing the letter would interfere with the upgrading of the mortuary.

Mr Skelton explained on RTÉ Radio One this morning that the HSE initially decided the mortuary, first built around 1994, was not fit for purpose in 2003/2004, and that planning permission to upgrade it was granted in 2015.

However, he claimed the HSE has done nothing about the matter since 2015.

“These plans were gathering dust and gathering dust they would have remained until this story was made public this week,” Mr Skelton said.

Consultant pathologist Professor Rob Landers, who was one of the four pathologists involved in writing the letter, was also on RTÉ Radio One.

He told Miriam O’Callaghan the letter was a letter of “last resort” as he and his colleagues had exhausted all other avenues in trying to get a new mortuary.

He also said they decided to write the letter after he heard, from informal contacts within the HSE, that the HSE had no intention of funding a new mortuary until at least 2022 or 2023.

He said:

“The situation is very bad and it needs immediate action.”

“The conditions really in the mortuary building are quite primitive. As Darren said there, they were recognised as unfit for purpose as far back as 2004. And the consultant pathologists and morticians, I suppose, have worked for the HSE and tolerated the conditions in the hope that we would get a new facility. But that has never come to pass despite us fully engaging with the planning process, etc, and getting planning permission for a new facility.

“It has never come to pass and I don’t think it’s looking like it will come to pass.

“So that generated the letter to the CEO of the South/South West Hospital Group in October of last year, really outlining our very serious concerns. And once again outlining the conditions of the mortuary and asking for urgent and immediate action.”

Professor Landers said the conditions at the mortuary “pose a risk” to staff, visitors and members of the public and “afford very little dignity” to the deceased.

Ms O’Callaghan put it to Prof Landers: “Just to spell it out, since 2004, this is regarded, Rob, as ‘unfit for purpose’. We’re not talking about last year, we’re talking about a long time ago. And we’re talking about people’s loved ones, decomposing on trolleys. Isn’t that what you said in your letter Rob?”

Professor Landers agreed and added:

“It is almost unbelievable in this day and age that that can happen and it’s unfortunately, there’s no way of avoiding this, it does happen from time to time. I’d like to apologise for that but given the facilities we’re working in, that’s unavoidable, it should never happen…”

Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey also spoke to Ms O’Callaghan.

Mr Coffey, a former undertaker himself, said the HSE had serious questions to answer over “a matter of serious and significant public interest”.

He said the HSE had to explain why it wouldn’t release the letter to Mr Skelton before going on to heavily criticise the HSE and asking if they had something to hide.

But Ms O’Callaghan asked Mr Coffey if he himself had questions to answer, given his previous time in Government.

Mr Coffey said he and other Oireachtas members were satisfied that the new mortuary was part of a “capital plan” in 2013. He added: “What has shown since is the clear lack of ability to deliver on the plan.”

“Politicians often feel, Marian [sic], the work is done when they achieve inclusion in the capital plan within the HSE’s strategic plan,” he said.

Ms O’Callaghan retorted: “Hang on, Paudie, it’s 15 years, we’re talking about, of people’s loved ones, dead people, lying on trollies, decomposing in your local hospital.”

She asked him if had gone to the minister or Cabinet, while he was in Government, and say “listen, there are dead bodies decomposing in Waterford, we need to do something, forget the capital plan, buy refrigeration, rent refrigeration?”

Mr Coffey responded:

“Let’s be fair here now and as Dr Landers has said, this is a very sensitive issue and I certainly don’t want to sensationalise it any further than what it is. And I don’t think you should either.

It certainly hasn’t been brought to my attention, or to my knowledge anyway, the other Oireachtas members’ attention that bodies were decomposing in any corridors. That was never the case.

“I’ve always been aware that the ancillary services, the post-mortem rooms and the facilities at the mortuary have been sub-standard and that is why it was included in the capital plan in 2013…”

At one point, Ms O’Callaghan read out a statement from the HSE, which said:

“University Hospital Waterford has recently received approval for a new replacement mortuary building. It’s expected that the request for tender will be issued shortly with the expectation that construction will commence before the end of this year. University Hospital Waterford is currently examining interim arrangements to address the issues raised.”

Mr Skelton responded to this statement, telling Ms O’Callaghan:

“What really annoys me is that the statement that came in from the HSE said that they have recently been given approval. Miriam, they were given approval in 2013. The HSE lie to media on an absolutely daily basis. They’re only at stage three of a nine-stage process to make this.

“They got approval in 2003 [sic] and they’re out there now saying they ‘recently got approval’ and that they’re going to do something about it. It’s lies. It’s lies on a daily basis.”

Ms O’Callaghan said: “Of course they will deny that. I’m just putting that out there, Darren.”

Meanwhile, last month…


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10 thoughts on “The Dead Can Wait

  1. eoin

    Leave the FG senator in Waterford alone, shure, wasn’t he only the (housing) junior minister between 2014 and 2016, how could he do anything about the problems at his local mortuary that have existed for a decade. And isn’t he up to his eyes in a defamation case that is set for a re-hearing after the first jury failed to reach a decision last December, and given the costs in the matter to date, I would have serious concerns for Paudie’s financial health if he loses. The poor man, how did he even find the time to turn up and make an embarrassment of himself on the Miriam show today.

  2. Nigel

    You can’t distance yourself from listening to experts telling you there’s a problem, then effectively failing to address the problem, by claiming that the horrible outcome of failing to address the problem is new to you. It’s like a microcosm of ignoring long-term problems for dubious short-term benefits, though what the benefit of not sorting it out when they should have is beyond me here. There’s a themtic link to be made between the bodies in Tuam and the bodies in Waterford. We’re inconvenient to them even when we’re dead.

  3. GiggidyGoo

    My oh my, but isn’t Halligan very quiet? Another item for his shopping list. Wheres the Cath Lab? What issue will he use next election to try garner votes?
    And Harris? Another day, another headache (Muppaphone reference from the Muppet Show)
    We need rid of FG quick.

  4. Murtles

    Minister for Health can’t give an answer about a Health issue in a HSE Hospital.
    Minister for Transport won’t interfere in strikes by Unions that affect Public Transport.
    Minister for Education cannot comment on School Issues run by Boards of Management.
    Minister of (State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and) Gaeltacht Affairs can’t speak Irish.

    Seriously why are we paying these people?

        1. Cian


          There are elections in 30 days. Find out about the candidates. Vote. Make a difference.

  5. Barry the Hatchet

    A side note: I read Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd over the weekend and it was a terrifically interesting read. Really showed the importance and value of having a good pathology service.

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