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The BBC's Niall Dickson reports
"In future relative will have to be consulted"
 real 28k

Judith Greensmith, Alder Hey Children's Hospital
"We are confident it is not going to happen again"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 10:17 GMT
Organ stripping ban 'not enough'
Organs have been retained without consent
Guidelines to ensure that organs are not removed from dead people without the fully informed consent of relatives must be backed by a change in the law, say campaigners.

The guidelines from the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) are a response to high-profile organ stripping scandals at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Merseyside, and Birmingham Children's Hospital.

They have been backed by the Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson, who is to send his own guidance about the management of hospital post-mortem examinations to chief executives of NHS trusts.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Lord Hunt has drafted in a new chair of the hospital trust which runs Alder Hey with a brief to ensure any organs retained by the unit are handed back to the families as sensitively as possible.

Lord Hunt has also ordered and an urgent audit of the management of the pathology laboratory at hospital.

The RCPath guidelines say consent must be obtained from relatives before a post mortem examination is carried out, and before organs and tissue are retained, either to determine cause of death or for medical research.

In future everything will be fully explained

Professor John Lilleyman, Royal College of Pathologists
Professor John Lilleyman, president of the Royal ColIege of Pathologists, said in the past families had not been told details of post mortem procedures to avoid distress.

He said: "It is now clear that this is no longer appropriate and in future everything will be fully explained."

Professor James Underwood, vice president of the college, said post mortem examinations were vital to gain knowledge of disease.

He said: "These guidelines are intended to ensure post mortem examinations have public support and are conducted in a respectful manner."

The key recommendations of the guidelines, drawn up after consultation with patient groups and professional bodies, are:

  • Improved training for personnel seeking permission for post mortem examinations
  • Consent for a post mortem to be sought from relatives
  • Relatives to be fully informed of what is likely to be retained, and distinction made between organs and tissue samples
  • Unless agreement has been obtained for long-term retention for teaching and research, hospitals must give relatives the chance to dispose of retained tissue as they see fit
In some cases post mortems are required by law. The guidance stresses that even in these cases relatives should be informed of what has been retained and for what purpose.

Organ stockpile

In December, Alder Hey bosses apologised for taking hearts, brains and other body parts from more than 800 children's bodies without seeking permission from their parents.

They were removed by pathologist Professor Dick van Velzen from children who died between 1988 and 1995, and stored in a cellar.

Alder Hey Children's Hospital
Organs were stockpiled at Alder Hey Children's Hospital
The chairman of the NHS trust which runs Alder Hey was forced to resign last week by Lord Hunt after it was revealed that the hospital had lost organs taken from a 10-day-old baby.

Lord Hunt said: "I am determined that this does not happen again."

Ian Cohen, the solicitor representing the families' support group Pity II, set up in the wake of the Alder Hey scandal, said the new guidelines were a start - but a change in the law was needed.

"Otherwise, there is no way of checking how hospitals are operating.

"I would add that the guidelines go quite a long way when it comes to hospital post mortems but the issue of coroners' post-mortems is not addressed - an issue which affects 50% of the Alder Hey families."

Birmingham Children's Hospital last September offered to return the hearts of 1,500 dead babies whose organs were to be used for medical research.

However, parents of children who died at the hospital have claimed that the hospital has yet to reveal full details of how many organs were taken from dead children without permission.

An inquiry into the Alder Hey affair was launched by Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

The practice of organ retention first surfaced during the public inquiry into deaths of children following heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

It is thought that organs have been routinely retained without consent at hospitals across the country.

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See also:

21 Feb 00 | Health
Doctor admits organ stripping
04 Dec 99 | Health
Organ laws may be tightened
03 Dec 99 | Health
Inquiry into organ scandal
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