A St Vincent's Hospital spokeswoman said the transportation of bodies was dealt with by government contractors. Photo: Steve Lunam
THE NSW Coroner has asked police to investigate why the body of an 84-year-old man lay in the morgue at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital for 10 days before the hospital reported the death.
When the man's son called the hospital to make funeral arrangements, the hospital initially had no record of his death and when he first saw the body five days later, it still had medical tubes and resuscitation equipment intact.
Patrick John Thomas, from Surry Hills, collapsed outside the Duffy Bros supermarket in Darlinghurst on December 18.
Ambulance officers were told he was in apparent cardiac arrest, and was not breathing. He was taken to St Vincent's Hospital, arriving at 1.41pm, and was pronounced dead at 2.03pm.
His son, Haydn Thomas, was told of the death by a friend the following day. Mr Thomas said he rang St Vincent's from his home on the state's north coast to ask how to proceed with funeral arrangements.
''St Vinnies said they had no record of him,'' he said.
Mr Thomas rang other hospitals in the Sydney area, only to eventually be told to call St Vincent's again but to ring the emergency department.
''They said yeah, that's where Dad was,'' a still-shaken Mr Thomas said. He flew to Sydney the next day and collected his father's possessions from the hospital in Darlinghurst.
On Sunday December 23, he returned by appointment to view his father's body, ''to see for himself''.
A spokeswoman for St Vincent's confirmed this took place with a pastoral care worker and a social worker present.
Mr Thomas said when he saw his father, he had breathing tubes and other medical equipment attached to his body.
''Yeah, it wasn't good. Apparently they're not allowed to take them out …
''The bloke who tried to revive him at the hospital, he said if they just pulled all the tubes out and there were some abrasions inside his throat and all that, then the Coroner would note that and then they'd wonder why,'' Mr Thomas said.
However, the Coroner's Court records reveal it was not notified until December 28.
The hospital spokeswoman told Fairfax Media the form to report the death was dated December 18, but could not confirm if transmission occurred on that date.
Police sources expressed outrage at the time it took to report the death.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said showing the body with medical equipment intact was in line with hospital protocol, describing it as ''normal procedure when the case is a coroner's case''.
Mr Thomas, who lives in Tweed Heads, has told Fairfax Media the whole incident had been badly handled.
''As a few people have said, your father doesn't deserve this … you shouldn't be, for 10 days, down in the hospital morgue,'' he said.
''It just took way too long … somebody obviously wasn't doing their job. Every time I'd rung up I was told 'no he's still down in the morgue'. [One woman] said something about 'it's Christmas'.''
The hospital spokeswoman said responsibility for the transportation of bodies lay with government contractors who work at the request of the Glebe Coroner's Court, not St Vincent's.
An autopsy done shortly after the move to Glebe revealed Mr Thomas had died of a blood clot in his heart.
It was there that Mr Thomas was finally able to formally identify his father with police present and finalise the process for cremation.
An only child, Mr Thomas said he would love to take some of his father's things back with him to Tweed Heads, but transporting them was beyond his budget.
''I expected to get another five years out of him - he used to walk up the shops every day, he was still rock fishing with me until his mid-'70s, until his knees started playing up too much,'' he said.
A spokesman for the Coroner's Court said police are preparing a brief of evidence for the coroner in relation to the death of Mr Thomas.
''In addition to examining the date, place and cause of death, the coroner has asked police to look into why the death was not reported to him expeditiously,'' he said.