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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 08:56 GMT

Bristol inquiry to look into child organ removal

At least 29 babies died following heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary

The public inquiry into a child heart operation scandal is likely to look into allegations that a hospital routinely removing organs from the bodies of dead children without their parents' consent.

The BBC's Clarence Mitchell: "Around 170 hearts and other organs are involved"
Health Secretary Frank Dobson told the BBC's Breakfast News that he expected the public inquiry into child heart operations at Bristol Royal Infirmary to look into the organ removals.

The hospital says it is standard practice to remove organs for post-mortems and consent is not a legal requirement.

Mr Dobson said reports of organ removals were "very, very disturbing" and were an example of how things had gone "badly wrong" at the hospital.

Frank Dobson: "The enquiry was set up with the support of the parents"
But he added that the mistakes had been made "a long time ago" and some changes had occurred since then.

However, he admitted the situation relating to organ removal needed clarification.

Bristol Royal Infirmary's paediatric heart surgery unit was the subject of the longest ever inquiry by the General Medical Council (GMC) last year.

The Bristol Heart Babies
Three doctors were found guilty of serious professional misconduct following death rates which were much higher than average at the hospital.

The public inquiry was ordered after parents protested that the GMC hearing had not been far-reaching enough.

The inquiry will look at how the problems arose and will study how the system as a whole allowed the situation to happen.

North Devon MP Nick Harvey has called for a Commons debate on the issue of organ removals.

But Margaret Beckett, leader of the Commons said she could not promise time would be set aside for one.

Heart removal

The Bristol Childrens' Heart Action Group, a parents' campaign group, says the hospital removed and retained the hearts of at least 170 hearts from children who died in operations over a 12-year period.

The hospital admits up to 180 hearts may have been removed.

It added that it had been in discussions about the issue for months and was planning to contact affected parents who were not members of big campaign groups.

But the Action Group said it had only just learnt that the organs were being removed "systematically".

Solicitor Mervyn Fudge, who advises the Action Group, said: "We understand it is or has been, accepted practice in the NHS to remove tissue or organs during the post mortem for research purposes without obtaining express consent.

"This is not just a matter for Bristol, we understand this is happening nationwide."


North Devon Liberal Democratic MP Nick Harvey called the practice "sickening" and said it only added to the distress of the Bristol parents.

He is planning to table a Commons question to Health Secretary Frank Dobson asking him to investigate how widespread the practice is.

He also wants to know whether guidance needs to be published telling hospitals to explain to relatives and parents about the post-mortem process and asking them to get their permission for organ removal.

The Department of Health (DoH) said that there were no laws on getting consent from families for post-mortems or on who owns dead bodies or body parts.

It added that there was no existing guidance on retaining body organs for post-mortem study.

[ image: The Bristol case has prompted a public inquiry]
The Bristol case has prompted a public inquiry
The DoH, however, said it was important to explain the post-mortem process to bereaved parents.

The coroner ordered a post-mortem in about 80% of the Bristol cases.

Normally organs are returned to the body shortly after post-mortems are carried out, but sometimes they are retained for further tests.

The Royal College of Pathologists is said to be discussing changes to its guidelines on the removal of organs at post-mortem with the Coroners' Society.

"This is a very difficult and sensitive situation and we understand how worrying it must be for the parents of the Bristol children, who have borne so much distress already in recent years," said a DoH statement.

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In this section

Bristol: Surgery may not be to blame

Tragedy of the heart op babies

Coroner in the dark on organ retention

Ward known as 'departure lounge'

TV doctor to help Bristol inquiry

Bristol mother 'devastated' by organ retention

Bristol whistleblower offers evidence via video

Organ scandal doctors 'presumed too much'

Parents blast hospital over missing organs

'Hospital gave me baby's heart in box'

GMC chief frustrates parents

Heart nurse's 'gut feeling' about Bristol

Mother 'rushed' into switching off life-support

Lifting the shame of Bristol

Surgeon tells of 'chronic workload'

NHS 'cavalier' over organ consent

Parents praise Bristol heart surgeons

Bristol chief: Managers powerless to intervene

Bristol unit used 'out-of-date operation'

Disgraced doctor loses appeal

'Travesty of brain-damaged success'

Grieving father suspected cover-up

Surgeon obtained consent 'fraudulently'

Bereaved parents 'treated shamefully'

Bristol surgeon 'saved baby'

Bristol inquiry hears of stolen database

Parents pack inquiry launch

Uncovering the Bristol scandal