Eoghan Dalton Reports
The General Manager of University Hospital Waterford (UHW) was not made aware of serious claims concerning its mortuary upon taking up the role, despite her predecessor receiving graphic information about the effect the facilities were having on bodies stored in the mortuary. The current General Manager of UHW, Grace Rothwell, entered the post in January, over two months after the South and South West Hospital Group received a letter from four consultant pathologists claiming that the poor facilities in the mortuary had resulted in bodies decomposing, requiring the use of closed coffins for funerals in some cases.
UHW’s interim manager at the time, Alice Medjaou, was one of the recipients attached to the email sent to the hospital group outlining the consultants’ claims. Despite the interim manager being aware of the claims made by the consultants in the hospital’s mortuary, Ms Rothwell did not learn of the claims until later.
Waterford Deputy David Cullinane (SF) told this newspaper that there are “clear problems in the lines of communication” across UHW management and the hospital group due to the information not being included in a handover briefing for Ms Rothwell when she took up the General Manager position at the start of the year.
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He said: “There was obviously poor communication between the hospital management and the hospital group that the hospital manager wasn’t aware of the most graphic claims in the letter when she came into the role, which to be fair to her she has said.“It’s something that will need to be teased out in front of the Oireachtas Health Committee and it will need to be examined as part of an independent inquiry.”
It’s understood Waterford Oireachtas members were told in a meeting a fortnight ago that Ms Rothwell only became aware of information surrounding the decomposing of bodies in March, after a freedom of information request had been received seeking the letter consultants sent last year.
Waterford Oireachtas members are to meet with UHW management and the hospital group next Monday to discuss further discuss issues surrounding the hospital. Last Friday, the refrigeration capacity at the mortuary was improved with the addition of six spaces. In total, three are now 13 spaces available.Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Health Committee has agreed to Deputy Cullinane’s request for a public hearing to discuss the ongoing issues with the UHW Mortuary.“I am happy to say that the Committee agreed and will schedule them in due course,” he said.
“It will hear from representatives from the South-South West hospital group, the four pathologists who initially raised the issue, as well as other relevant witnesses. We need to know exactly what has been going on with the mortuary, and why it has been left in a significant state of underinvestment for so long.”
Deputy Cullinane added: “The news that the State Pathologist has directed the Garda Síochána to avoid using the mortuary simply adds to the need for answers. It is unfortunate that the Taoiseach took it upon himself (two weeks ago) to dismiss public – and official – concerns. Hopefully the Minister for Health, his Department, the HSE, and the hospital group will take a more positive and proactive approach when the hearings begin. I look forward to putting questions to them and getting to the bottom of this matter.”
For her part, Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler said the Garda’s decision not to send any more cases to the UHW Mortuary represented further evidence of the need for a full inquiry into conditions at the facility.
“This latest development underlines the seriousness of the issues that the four consultants at UHW identified months ago and wrote to management at the South/South West Hospital Group about.
“It is imperative that an inquiry is set up to investigate the conditions and to learn from the mistakes that were made.  We also need to see a new mortuary constructed at the hospital – issues had been identified as far back as 2004 but we are still waiting on the government to move forward with it.”
Cllr Shanahan added: “Despite any follow through on the mortuary issue cardiac campaigners and hospital supporters will continue to question where are the consultant cardiology posts promised for UHW in 2012 and when will the 98% failure rate to deliver cardiac patients to outside centres within national clinical standard as a result of UHW cath lab closure be brought to an end? As this broken promise of 2012 is undoubtedly one of the drivers of mortuary activity we would like to see the same reaction by the minister in this regard as to the recent national news headlines (and more than a few locally -Ed) which have done more to improve patient lots in seven days in UHW than the South/South West Hospital Group management have done in seven years!”