Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Dobson: 'No health apartheid'
Allegations centre on this Sheffield hospital
Health Secretary Frank Dobson has promised to rid the NHS of racism after a hospital accepted organs on the condition they would be transplanted to a white patient.
The case - revealed exclusively by BBC's Newsnight programme - involved the family of a kidney donor from the north of England who had specified that the organs could be used only if they did not go to "coloured people".
Three major organs were removed from the donor, and the kidneys were subsequently transplanted to a white person in another hospital.
Mr Dobson said: "I was appalled when I learned today the initial details of this case. As soon as I heard, I asked my permanent secretary to carry out an urgent investigation to find out what happened and to ensure it never happens again.
"I have not been an opponent of the Apartheid movement for the whole of my adult life to see it introduced into the NHS. We will not tolerate it."
"We take such matters extremely seriously and think it's important to point out that we are very concerned about the effects the situation may have on donor families or recipients who have received transplants."
A statement from the Department of Health said the government was "totally against" any kind of conditions being attached to organ donation.
"Donated organs are a national resource which is available to people regardless of race, religion, age or other circumstances and many patients benefit from these life-saving donations," it said.
Donation details unclear
It is widely accepted in the transplant community that no conditions should be accepted, it added.
The spokeswoman said: "As far as we know it is one donor giving more than one donation. The details are unclear and that is why an investigation has been launched to look into it."
She said it was unclear whether the condition was placed by the donor or by relatives.
The investigation will be led by the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Chris Kelly.
A spokeswoman for the UK Transplant Support Services Authority said: "We exist to follow policy and we wholeheartedly support what the secretary of state has said."
She said: "This situation will place doctors in an almost unethical dilemma. They would be instinctively repulsed by the idea of discriminating between black and white patients.
"But faced with a dying patient and a matching organ they might well feel that their overriding duty was to save the patient's life."
'Problems of discrimination'
Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox added: "This is an extremely disturbing case. There must be no question of ethnicity clouding clinical judgement in such matters."
"We look forward to other problems of discrimination in the health service being dealt with accordingly."
'System due for review'
Dr Harris, a former hospital doctor, wants the government to set up an "opt-out" rather than an opt-in system for organ donations.
"There are fewer and fewer transplants being done each year and there are more and more people joining the waiting lists," he said. "The whole system is due for a review."
His motion, to be debated on Thursday, seeks to ensure that the families of people who have indicated their wish to be donors cannot veto the donation or impose conditions on it.
Although inter-racial transplants increase the risk of the transplanted organ being rejected and there have been calls for more ethnic minorities to come forward as organ donors, doctors say there are no racial barriers to transplants.