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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"When all the facts are known will confidence be restored?"
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Solicitor Ian Cohen talks to the BBC
"The families are devastated"
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Lord Hunt, Health Minister
"We want to make sure we learn the lessons"
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Friday, 3 December, 1999, 22:48 GMT
Inquiry into organ scandal
Alder Hey Children's Hospital The children died at Alder Hey Children's Hospital

An independent inquiry has been ordered into allegations that doctors at a Merseyside hospital stripped children of their entire organ systems during post mortem examinations.

The wholesale removal of hundreds of organs is believed to have taken place at Alder Hey Children's Hospital. It is alleged the organs were taken for research purposes and parents say they were not asked for their consent.

The announcement comes as parents of children involved in the controversy met to set up a pressure group.

How could he butcher my daughter and take all her organs?
Janet Valentine, Alder Hey parent
The public inquiry will report by the end of March 2000. The results will be made public.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn issued a statement on Friday afternoon, which said: "It is essential that we now seek to restore public confidence in health services at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

"No-one hearing the details of the events at Alder Hey Children's Hospital can be anything but concerned at what has happened.

"I want to ensure that the parents of these children are able to make their views heard and that these terrible events are not repeated in the future."

Kayleigh Valentine Kayleigh Valentine's death is to be investigated
Alder Hey is conducting an internal inquiry. A spokesman said in a statement: "We understand that issues will be raised which need further investigation.

"Given this, together with the continuing concerns of parents, we welcome this further inquiry. We are confident that this will address the outstanding issues."

Mr Milburn said the events at the hospital were "obviously distressing" for the families concerned, and added that relatives would be able to make their views known directly or in writing to the inquiry.

The government's action follows growing pressure from parents for an investigation.

About 200 people, including many of the parents involved, packed into Liverpool's Oakdale United Reform Church on Friday evening for a meeting on the issue.

Solicitor Ian Cohen, who represents about 70 of the families, said the announcement of a public inquiry was "a welcome step forward", but that he remained guarded.

Many grieving parents fought back tears as they addressed the gathering and told of their own personal tragedies.

'Extremely isolated'

John Wheelan said he was initially told his daughter's organs had been retained and then informed that this in fact was not the case.

He claimed to have seen cuts on her body at the undertakers.

"We feel extremely isolated. We have been told we are in a unique position."

Another father whose son died of acute liver failure learned only recently that he was buried without his heart.

"If they had approached us and asked us about organ donation, we would have agreed," he said, close to tears.

The independent inquiry comes after an announcement by Liverpool coroner Andre Rebello that he is to re-open inquiries into the death of one of the children - baby Kayleigh Valentine who died nine years ago at the hospital.

Mr Rebello believes the hospital may have acted illegally by retaining organs after death.

He said: "It is absolutely outrageous that any organs were taken, and that the family now have to go through the loss process again and re-build their lives again.

After the shock of discovering hearts had been removed, they are now going through the whole grieving process again
Ian Cohen, solicitor representing the families
"They have been brutalised by the system and it is totally unacceptable that this should happen to anyone."

Kayleigh's mother Janet said: "How could he (the pathologist) butcher my daughter and take all her organs?

"Those organs have just been sitting in Alder Hey for nearly 10 years, and why? What have they gained from doing that?"

The retention of hearts is standard practice at hospitals around the country.

But in October, Alder Hey admitted it had learnt that organs as well as hearts had been stored at Liverpool University by a senior pathologist, also employed at Alder Hey.

Mr Cohen says he has evidence that, in the case of most of those who died between 1988 and 1995, every organ may have been removed before burial.

Mr Cohen said: "Most of the parents I have consulted, whose children died in that period, have learnt that the entire organ system was retained - including brains, lungs and kidneys."

Andre Rebello Andre Rebello has re-opened inquiries
Pathologist Prof van Velzen, who left in 1995, has since hit the headlines when it was learnt he had been dismissed from a medical post in Canada on grounds of "incompetent acts".

He is now in Holland, declining to talk to the British media.

Many medical specialists believe there may well have to be a case to test the legality of retaining organs.

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson is investigating the general issue of organ retention in the NHS
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See also:
03 Dec 99 |  Health
Organ stripping: The reaction
03 Dec 99 |  Health
Organ removal: the legal background
07 Oct 99 |  Health
Child organ stockpile prompts inquiry
27 Sep 99 |  Health
Hospital will return children's hearts
16 Jul 99 |  Health
Organ donor reform rejected

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