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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Doctors will try to undo the damage that Alder Hey has done"
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West Midlands Transplant Services' Beverley Cornford
"There is no similarity between the organ retention issue and organ donations"
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Sunday, 4 February, 2001, 12:53 GMT
Organ transplant summit called
Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool
Alder Hey scandal's shadow hangs over donations
New ways of encouraging people to become organ donors are to be discussed at an emergency meeting of transplant experts chaired by Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

The summit of surgeons, transplant organisations, trade unions and employers was called following fears that the number of donors may be dropping following the Alder Hey body parts scandal.

Although there is no connection between the selfless act of giving organs and the row over taking them, there are concerns at what may be a new reluctance on the part of donors' relatives.

The new drive to restore public confidence in the donor programme and encourage people to carry donor cards could include asking employers to distribute information packs with pay slips.

People do not trust anybody in the NHS any more, so our co-ordinators will have to work harder to show them nothing awful will happen to their children

Sue Sutherland
Chief executive UK Transplant

Transplant experts raised their concerns of a possible organ shortage after the revelation that pathologist Dick van Velzen had hoarded thousands of children's organs at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, sometimes without families' consent.

Professor van Velzen was suspended on Friday by the General Medical Council.

Massive campaign

The Department of Health said the aim was to make "absolutely clear" the difference between agreeing to organ donations and organs being retained after a post-mortem.

Mr Milburn said: "Eight million people carry organ donor cards in Britain and they need to have full confidence that they will be treated with dignity and respect at all times.

"Although at the moment the Alder Hey scandal does not appear to have affected donation of organs, we do not want to become complacent.

Heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub
Heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub: Concerned at damage done by scandal
"I want to step up our drive to get more donors so that vital medical advances are not halted and people whose lives could so easily be saved with a transplant are not left to die unnecessarily."

A DoH spokeswoman said it was too early to see any evidence that donor numbers had slumped, but it was aware there were concerns.

"The goal is to make people see that in giving an organ they can save a life," she said.

"We are looking for a massive public awareness campaign."

Muddled message

Two leading transplant centres, The Royal Brompton Hospital and Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth, have not carried out a single transplant in 10 days.

Transplant surgeon John Buckels of the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham is convinced organ donations are "significantly down".

"I believe and other colleagues believe that this is as a direct result of the publicity from Alder Hey."

The public must be terrified that we are just taking bits out of people willy nilly, for our own benefit - we are not doing that

Michael Bewick
Renal transplant surgeon
Sue Sutherland, chief executive of UK Transplant, said: "People get organ donations muddled up with tissue being put away in bottles and everything like that.

"But I have no evidence at the moment to suggest that there has actually been a drop.

"In fact this has been a bumper month despite what has gone on, with 74 donors leading to 220 transplants."

Mr Michael Bewick, a renal transplant surgeon at St George's Hospital, in Tooting, south London, said he had heard reports of patients tearing their donor cards up.

"The public must be terrified that we are just taking bits out of people willy nilly, for our own benefit. We are not doing that," he said.

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04 Feb 01 | Scotland
Organ retention 'standard practice'
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