Accused doctor reported to be working abroad

ORGAN SCANDAL Parents' lawyers are angered at suggestion that the inquiry into storage of body parts may be unable to interview surgeon
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The Independent Online
THE CONSULTANT pathologist accused of taking the organs from hundreds of children at Alder Hey hospital, Liverpool, was reported yesterday to be back in his native Holland, in an unusual career that has taken him to four countries on both sides of the Atlantic.

Professor Dick van Velzen, an expert on cot death, went to work at the IWK Grace Hospital in Nova Scotia after leaving Alder Hey in 1995 but the Canadian equivalent of the General Medical Council found him guilty of "incompetent acts".

By then he had left Canada for a post at the Port of Spain hospital in Trinidad, Jamaica. He is now back at the Westeinde hospital, in The Hague.

Professor van Velzen said the Canadian board had found in his favour, and the Canadian hospital and his lawyers were in negotiations. The case was not linked to his work at Alder Hey.

It was unclear last night whether the professor would be required to appear before any of the three inquiries now under way into the practice of organ retention. The Health Department said it was "too early to say".

Ian Cohen, a Liverpool solicitor representing families involved at Alder Hey said it was his understanding that under the remit of Alder Hey's internal inquiry, chaired by Stephen Gould, a consultant pathologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, Professor van Velzen could not be interviewed. Mr Cohen said: "We find this staggering. How can they carry out an inquiry in relation to this without questioning the man being blamed by Alder Hey?"

Andre Rebello, the Liverpool coroner, said tissue should be removed only to ascertain the cause of death and there was no justification for removing organs.

"It's absolutely outrageous that any organs were taken in the first place, and in the second place, that the family have to go through the loss process again and have to rebuild their lives again," he told BBC Breakfast News.

Professor van Velzen was appointed to the chair of foetal and infant pathology at Liverpool University - the first post of its kind in Britain - in September 1988. His Alder Hey research into cot death was financed by a pounds 250,000 five-year grant from the London-based Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, with extra cash from the TSB Foundation, Liverpool Health Authority and the University of Liverpool.

At the time, Professor van Velzen spoke of his wish to see a post mortem examination carried out in every case.

"Our children are much too precious for them to die without making use of every single scrap of available information which could help the next child," he was quoted as saying.

It is understood his decision to start removing other organs, which began in 1988, was taken when funding for doing post mortems ran out.

The extent of Alder Hey's organ collection, which included more than 2,000 hearts and other organs from a further 850 post mortems was revealed at the public inquiry into the care of children who had heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary from 1983 to 1995.

More than 250 parents have contacted Alder Hey and been told their children's organs were retained. More than 70 have had the organs returned for cremation or burial, paid for by the hospital.

Despite the hospital's attempt to answer queries through dedicated workers on special helplines, most parents felt their questions would not be met adequately without a public inquiry.

Other hospitals with large collections of organs include the Royal Brompton Hospital and Great Ormond Street children's hospital in London which have catalogued and stored 2,000 hearts each.

There are 1,500 kept in Birmingham and a further 1,000 in Leeds. Hospitals in Southampton, Newcastle, Manchester and Bristol have retained about 500 each.

Most hospitals now ask parents for specific consent before removing organs.