NHS besieged with body parts questions

Organs scandal: Worried relatives jam hospital switchboards while Liverpool University admits it failed to monitor doctor
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Hospitals were besieged with calls yesterday from people enquiring about body parts removed from dead relatives as the grim details of the Alder Hey organ scandal triggered outrage around the country.

Hospitals were besieged with calls yesterday from people enquiring about body parts removed from dead relatives as the grim details of the Alder Hey organ scandal triggered outrage around the country.

NHS Direct, the national telephone helpline, took 3,000 calls and local hospital switchboards were jammed throughout the day as hundreds of callers submitted requests for information following revelations that the bodies of children undergoing post mortems at Alder Hey were systematically stripped of their organs.

A leading expert in bereavement warned families thinking of making enquiries about a dead relative that it could re-awaken old grief unnecessarily. Professor Colin Murray Parkes, former consultant psychiatrist at the Royal London Hospital and president of Cruse, the bereavement charity, said: "If a family [of someone who had died] came to me and asked did I think it was a good idea for them to explore this, I would say probably not. But I would not want to cover up what went on."

An inquiry into the Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust, which includes Alder Hey, published on Monday, condemned the scale and the manner in which organs were taken and recommended that the pathologist responsible, Professor Dick van Velzen, should never be allowed to practise in the UK again. He could also face prosecution after the inquiry chairman, Michael Redfern, QC, recommended a copy of the report be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

A second report by the Government's chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, revealed that more than 100,000 organs, body parts, stillbirths and foetuses were held in 210 hospitals and medical schools around the country, many taken or kept illegally.

The Prime Minister condemned the practices revealed in the reports "without reservation" yesterday and said they must never be repeated. Tony Blair told the Commons it was essential to clarify the basis on which consent to organ removal was given and said it should be a criminal offence to ignore the wishes of families.

Yesterday the macabre task of re-uniting families with the missing organs of their dead relatives began. Hospitals were taking details from callers and promising to contact them later so that full and accurate details of organs held could be given.

One of the key criticisms of Alder Hey was the slipshod manner in which management handled enquiries, which resulted in body parts being returned to families piece by piece, requiring second, third and fourth funerals.

The Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust, which holds the largest store in the country after Alder Hey, containing 4,400 organs and body parts, said it had received 150 calls by midday.

Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, London, said it had received 50 calls, while its Child Death helpline, set up to support bereaved parents, had taken 200 calls. Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust had taken more than 100 calls.

Professor Murray Parkes, an international authority on bereavement, said he could understand why parents were distressed by the revelation of the secrets of the dissecting room which had been covered up for too long.

Asked if it would be helpful to families to explore what happened to their relatives who may have died years ago, he said: "I don't suppose it would be helpful at all but having said that I can understand why they are distressed. Once people have started worrying about what happened to their loved ones they can't keep it under wraps and they should be told if they want to know. It is not very helpful to people to be told they ought not to feel like that if they do."

Jenni Thomas, director of the Child Bereavement Foundation, said families who were alarmed by the revelations should be encouraged to find out what had happened to their own children. "If they don't, they will worry about it," she said.

However, many parents had called the trust to say they had no objection to their child's organs being retained and were glad they had been put to good use for research, she said.

"They are in the minority but since they were calling to say it was not a big problem for them I would not have expected many to call," she said.

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