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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
Organ scandal 'could harm patients'
laboratory work
Routine pathology work is suffering, say doctors
Leading pathologists say that the UK's organ retention scandal could harm patient care and hinder vital research.

Writing in a leading medical journal, they say that the rush to identify the source of thousands of tissues kept by hospitals is delaying important pathology work.

Every NHS Trust has been told to check its records to identify tissues which may have been retained without consent, or perhaps without relatives even being told.

The move follows the Alder Hey Children's Hospital scandal which revealed that organs from thousands of dead children had been removed and stored at the Liverpool hospital without parental consent.

If the pathologists hadn't behaved like this in the first place, this wouldn't have arisen

Rex Makin, Families' solicitor
The pathologists' concerns have met a firm response from those representing relatives of children whose organs were removed.

Rex Makin, the solicitor representing many families planning to sue the NHS, says that the profession has brought the current crisis on itself.

Pathologists Dr Philip Cox, from Birmingham Women's Hospital, and Dr Rosemary Scott, from University College London, are firmly against national inquiries into tissue retention dating back decades.

Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, they said: "There is a danger that further national inquiries will cause additional distress to parents who have lost babies in the past, by making them revisit their grief and raising doubts, which will not be answerable, years after the event."


The pathologists say the order for trusts to check records has had a "considerable impact" on the time of staff involved - to the "detriment" of the pathology service itself.

In addition, they claim that the number of post mortem examinations carried out on infants has fallen since Alder Hey, and that the specialty is having real problems recruiting new doctors to fill new posts.

"The current controversy is seriously damaging perinatal pathology," they wrote.

Other leading pathologists are also trying to repair the image of the profession in the wake of the scandal.

Professor John Lilleyman, also writing in the journal, said: "I believe it will be remembered as a watershed on the road to the wide medical profession's acceptance of the need to abandon paternalism.

"It is a pity that this could not been achieved without so much pain and distress to bereaved parents."

However, Mr Makin said: "If the pathologists hadn't behaved like this in the first place, this wouldn't have arisen.

"This is the result of misbehaviour."

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11 May 01 | Health
Organ retention families in court
22 Mar 01 | Health
Doctors 'still trusted by public'
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