Parents of stillborn upset over foetus store

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The Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool was swamped with calls from parents of stillborn babies yesterday because of reports that up to 400 foetuses had been kept without permission.

The Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool was swamped with calls from parents of stillborn babies yesterday because of reports that up to 400 foetuses had been kept without permission.

The hospital is already at the centre of an external investigation, ordered by the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, into revelations that organs from up to 850 infants were taken without parental consent and stockpiled.

Although Alder Hay has been contrite since the organ scandal surfaced 11 months ago, it responded angrily to renewed controversy over the foetuses, collected from other hospitals across the North-west between 1988 and 1995.

The hospital said the number of foetuses had been publicly detailed in reports to its own board and an internal serious incident team on which relatives sit, but had not elicited publicity amid the sheer scale of the organ scandal.

The NHS North West Executive said the new controversy was "not in the interest of bereaved families", who would incur unnecessary anxieties. The existence of the foetuses had been known for 10 months, it added.

Kate Jackson, project director of Alder Hey's serious incident team, said parents who approached the hospital had been provided with "the fullest information" about organs and foetuses held. "Many families will have moved on, many families will not want to be reminded, many individual mothers will not want to be reminded," she said.

But Ed Bradley, spokesman for Alder Hey parents' group Pity2, said he was "horrified" at the collection of foetuses, mostly after stillbirths and terminations, for Professor Dick Van Velzen, the pathologist at the centre of the organ scandal.

"Alder Hey knew about this and should have made this known months ago," said Mr Bradley. "Some of these foetuses... were wanted and parents would have had no idea they would end up in a hospital store."

Ian Cohen, a solicitor who represents many of the families, said: "We have been making discreet inquiries during the past four weeks. It now transpires there is in fact a [foetal] collection. I see no difference between the retention of organs and whole foetuses."

About 300 foetuses were received between 1988 and 1995 from the former Mill Road and Oxford Street maternity hospitals in Liverpool.

The number retained for research by Alder Hey was far greater than the national norm, though investigators have been unable to state precisely how many were used for research. Government guidelines since 1989 state mothers must give written consent for any research work on foetuses. The storage of foetuses dates to the tenure of Professor Velzen, who worked at the hospital between 1988 and 1995.

Foetus retention is believed to have been examined in an independent investigation, ordered by Mr Milburn, which was completed seven days ago and whose report may be published next month.

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