Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

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 BBC's Fergus Walsh: "The transplant team faced a terrible ethical dilemma"
Mr Dobson has ordered an inquiry which will look into the circumstances of a donation of organs to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, last July.

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.

[ image: Officials say no conditions can be attached to organ donation]
Officials say no conditions can be attached to organ donation
It is unclear if a white person was chosen instead of a black person as no details were available of who was on the waiting list or their suitability.

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."

Health Secretary Frank Dobson: "This is totally unacceptable"
Phil Taylor, acting chief executive for the Northern General Hospital, said: "Under no circumstances could we condone conditions being placed on the consent given for the donation of organs. We will be co-operating fully with the investigation currently under way.

"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."

Dr Vivian Nathanson : "People have always said: 'We accept the donation as an altruistic gift and no strings can be attached'"
Dr Vivian Nathanson, head of policy and ethics at the British Medical Association, said the inquiry would raise questions over whether the way in which organs are donated "now needs to be enforced".

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.

'Unethical' dilemma

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."

BBC Health Correspondent Matthew Hill with an exclusive Newsnight report on organ donation
However, a spokesman for the British Medical Association (BMA) said such a condition would leave doctors torn by an "unethical" dilemma.

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."

Sir Herman Ouseley: "We need to set standards for all our public agencies"
Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "We appreciate the forthright stance of the secretary of state in making clear that the NHS will not accept conditions that might lead it to discriminate in the provision of health care.

"We look forward to other problems of discrimination in the health service being dealt with accordingly."

'System due for review'

Hospital acting chief executive Phil Taylor: "We do not condone conditions being placed on organ donation"
A motion before the BMA conference later this week proposed by Liberal Democrat Evan Harris is aimed at banning the family of a donor from imposing any conditions.

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.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

07 Jul 99 | UK
Doctors - making decisions on a knife edge

07 Jul 99 | Health
The ethics of transplantation

07 Jul 99 | Health
Head to head: Donor ethics

28 Jan 99 | Your NHS
The organ transplant crisis

28 Jan 99 | Health
Organ transplants 'on a knife edge'

25 Sep 98 | Background Briefings
The art of transplantation

Internet Links

British Organ Donor Society


Department of Health

Commission for Racial Equality

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99