A mortuary fridge containing the bodies of five infants broke down at St Helier Hospital.

An inquiry has been launched after the fridge stopped working last Friday (August 10) and was switched off for 36 hours.

It is thought that the malfunction may affect the ability to establish causes of death and an investigation has been launched into how the fault occurred.

The fridge contained the bodies of two infants and three foetuses. The families have all been informed.

Dr Martin Stockwell, Joint Medical Director at St Helier Hospital, said: “With much regret, we can confirm that a technical failure in the mortuary department at St Helier Hospital resulted in one of six refrigeration units breaking down for approximately 36 hours.

“We are deeply sorry that this incident occurred, and we are working hard to understand how and why it happened. The Trust is taking this matter very seriously, and we are reviewing our processes as a matter of urgency.

“We have launched a thorough investigation into the matter, and are working closely with the Human Tissue Authority, to prevent it happening again.”

The Human Tissue Authority is the national authority responsible for regulating mortuary activities.

Dr Alan Clamp, Chief Executive of the Human Tissue Authority said: “Our thoughts are with the families, for whom this incident will have caused significant distress at a very sad and difficult time as they try to come to terms with their loss.

“All mortuaries licensed by the HTA must comply with our standards which include requirements relating to premises, facilities and equipment. 

"As part of our inspection process we assess the condition of body storage facilities and the systems in place to identify and deal with equipment failures promptly, including temperature monitoring, maintenance arrangements and alarms.

"Where we find that systems are inadequate, we consider the risk posed by the shortfall and ensure that  action is taken to address it. We do this to minimise the risk to the bodies of deceased people whilst in the mortuary.

“We are taking the failure at St Helier Hospital very seriously and are working with senior staff there to establish the full facts so that appropriate action is taken.  We inspected the hospital  against our standards this week including those relating to the facilities and will be ensuring that the hospital’s own internal investigation is thorough.

"Our aim was to understand what went wrong and share the lessons learned with other mortuaries to reduce the risk of another incident.  We are satisfied that suitable steps have been taken in relation to this particular case, and that the procedural improvements made will help prevent something similar happening again in the future.’

Peter Walsh from the charity Action against Medical Accidents said: "This incident will add to the distress of parents and should not have happened.

"There should be failsafe procedures in place to prevent it. It could also cause problems with post mortems establishing the cause of death, which is vitally important.”