An Irish hospital has ordered a full internal review after it accidentally gave the wrong body to a mourning family who lost a loved one to COVID-19. 

Mullingar Regional Hospital's mortuary made the mistake on Friday, April 24, the HSE confirmed. 

The unnamed family reportedly had no idea that they had the wrong body until shortly before the funeral began when the hospital spotted the mistake.

Ireland has a strict policy regarding COVID-19 burials, which led to the mistake. 

COVID-19 patients who succumb to the virus are placed in sealed body bags to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Undertakers then transport the bodies to funeral homes in body bags and place them in coffins to further mitigate the spread of the virus. On some occasions, the bodies remain in body bags even when they are placed in coffins.

The HSE advises undertakers to remove the body from body bags in "very exceptional circumstances' only. 

As a result, bereaved families do not see loved ones after they die from COVID-19 and the family in question was unable to spot the mistake. 

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However, a mortician in Mullingar Regional Hospital spotted the mistake just in time, according to 

The mortician noticed a body bag with the deceased person's name was still in the hospital mortuary, even though the person's name had already been signed out.

A number of mourners had already lined the roads near the deceased person's home to pay their final respects from a safe distance when the discovery was made.

The hearse carrying the wrong body was redirected to Mullingar General Hospital, and the bodies were swapped. 

HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O'Connor said that the HSE was investigating the incident. She said that she hoped it was an isolated incident and said that the HSE is taking steps to prevent it from happening again. 

"It is an important and critical thing for us so we would hope the policies and procedures in place would ensure that it doesn't happen anywhere else," she said. 

The HSE also offered its condolences to both affected families.  

The hospital apologized to the families of both COVID-19 victims involved in the mix-up. 

A spokesperson for Mullingar Regional Hospital said: "We would like to offer our condolences to the families and sincerely apologize for the distress this has caused during this difficult time."

The spokesperson said that the hospital was taking precautions to ensure that this never happened again.

"The Ireland East Hospital Group, along with Regional Hospital Mullingar, have convened their Serious Incident Management Team and are conducting a full internal review. Processes and protocols have been reviewed within the hospital and its mortuary in order to mitigate this extremely rare event from happening again."

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