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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 16:55 GMT
100,000 organs stored in England
Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson compiled the report
Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson compiled the report
More than 100,000 organs have been retained by hospitals across England, it has been revealed.

At a press conference moments after the Alder Hey report was made public, the Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson revealed that the practice of stockpiling organs is widespread.

He has published the results of a census of organ retention together with a series of recommendations aimed at ensuring the practices are not repeated.

Organs, body parts and foetuses retained
104,300 retained
50,000 pre 1970
54,300 post 1970

The census showed that almost 105,000 organs have been retained across the country in 210 NHS trusts and medical schools.

However, Professor Donaldson said that poor standards of cataloguing and recording could mean that these records are not accurate.

The census showed more than two dozen institutions with more than 500 organs, body parts or corpses of stillborn babies and foetuses.

Some 25 hospitals accounted for 88% of the organs that had been retained.

And it was revealed 16,000 organs removed during coroners' post-mortem examinations may have been kept for teaching, research or simply stored for no purpose, in breach of the law.

Organs retained from 1970 to1999
Brains - 44% (23,900)
Hearts - 17% (9,400)
Lungs - 13% (6,900)

After post mortems, organs are not supposed to be kept for longer than it takes to establish the cause of death.

Recommendations

The recommendations outlined by Professor Donaldson, which have been accepted by the Health Secretary in full include:

  • The law will be changed to enshrine the concept of informed consent. Existing laws will be overhauled
  • A special committee will be set up, headed by a Manchester law expert which will look at returning organs and tissues to families who wish to have them
  • Families will be able to obtain information from NHS Direct
  • A review of the accountability and management of staff who are employed by both the NHS and universities
  • Each NHS trust to provide advice and support to bereaved families
  • Parents will have more say over what tissues and organs can be retained

Launching the reports, Professor Donaldson said the whole culture of asking families to donate tissues and organs needed to be changed.

Changes

He said that the emphasis must change so they are seen as a "gift, for which we feel and express gratitude."

On the need to change the consent form, he said: "People may have signed a form, the majority will have, but they couldn't really have known what they were signing, in the moments after the death.

"The unsatisfactory nature of the agreement forms, the lack to information and the lack of counselling support or advice when a signature was being sought at a distressing time suggests that in many cases, agreement to retention fell well short of being fully informed consent.

"For many, therefore, the fact that their loved one's organs are still being held will be a surprise and a shock to them.

"Custom and practice developed within a framework of law which relied too heavily on a traditional and rather paternalistic attitude in which the benefit of teaching and research were seen as self-evident truths and the wishes and feelings of individual parents and families were not sufficiently recognised."

He said hospitals would in future be more aware of cultural and religious sensitivities associated with asking families to consent to the retention of organs and tissues.

Professor Donaldson also said there would be an investigation into the small number of frozen body parts, mainly hands and arms, that are imported into this country, and to ensure they are "ethically obtained."

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