Organ scandal report published

The full extent of the Alder Hey organs scandal is due to be revealed today with the publication of the long-awaited Redfern report.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn ordered an independent inquiry after it emerged organs from thousands of dead children were removed and stockpiled by the Liverpool hospital.

Many bereaved families who discovered their children were buried without hearts, lungs, brains and other body parts claim they never gave informed consent to hospital doctors or pathologists.

The inquiry team, chaired by Michael Redfern QC, started to hear evidence behind closed doors last spring and presented its findings to the Department of Health in the autumn.

The report has been described by health officials as shocking, with Mr Milburn branding its contents grotesque.

According to reports, the document is expected to criticise Dutch cot death expert and pathologist Professor Dick van Velzen and hospital management who oversaw his work.

The professor, who is currently on extended leave from the Westeinde hospital in The Hague, was head of pathology at Alder Hey from 1988 to 1995.

The existence of Alder Hey's heart collection - described as "probably the biggest and the best" - first emerged in September 1999 during the public inquiry into the deaths of babies at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

A month later, after hundreds of telephone calls from concerned parents, the Liverpool hospital admitted that other organs, including brains, lungs, kidneys and livers, had been stockpiled in a basement laboratory.

The Redfern document, believed to be some 600 pages long, is being published under parliamentary privilege.

Its release coincides with the publication of a report by chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson into the issue of informed consent and the retention of organs across the country.

The report is expected to reveal that body parts were stored for teaching and research at hospitals across Britain.

Speaking on the eve of the publication of the two reports, Mr Milburn said fundamental changes in the laws governing patients' consent to operations and organ donation were needed to restore the public's trust in the health service.

Addressing a conference in London, he hinted at sweeping changes in practice and policy to ensure patients gave informed consent to treatment.

Claiming that the public's trust in the health service had been dented by the Alder Hey and Bristol Royal Infirmary scandals, the minister said the NHS could no longer act as a "secret society".

"Above all else, for trust to thrive there has to be informed consent," said Mr Milburn.

"Not a tick-in-the-box consent regime but consent that is based on discussion and dialogue, where consent is actively sought and positively given.

"The days have gone where the NHS could act as a secret society. It cannot operate behind closed doors.

"It cannot keep patients in the dark. It has to take patients into its confidence. It has to actively earn the trust of patients in life and it has to actively seek the consent of relatives in death."

"I want the balance of power in the NHS to shift decisively in favour of the patient - not to pitch patients against doctors but to put the relationship between patients and the health service on a more modern footing.

"That will require changes in practice and changes in policy. It will require changes in medical training too. I believe it is so fundamental it will also require changes to the law."

The health secretary said that better reporting systems of mistakes were being implemented in a bid to avoid a repeat of the damaging Alder Hey and Bristol scandals, adding that the paternalistic culture of the health service had to be overhauled.

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