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The Alder Hey Organs Scandal

Twenty years since the organ retention scandal at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, Sue MacGregor reunites parents and hospital staff who were caught up in events.

Twenty years ago, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool was at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in NHS history - the retention of organs from dead children. Sue MacGregor reunites parents and hospital staff who were caught up in events.

In the autumn of 1999, parents of children who had died at Alder Hey several years earlier were shocked to find out that the hearts, lungs, brains, and even reproductive organs of their children had been kept by the hospital without their knowledge. In most cases, the organs – as many as 2,000 of them – had not been used for medical research but were stored in a dusty basement cellar in central Liverpool.

Much of the blame was placed on the actions of Professor Dick van Velzen, a Dutch pathologist who conducted post-mortems on children between 1988 and 1995. The government’s Redfern Report accused him of systematically removing “every organ from every child" he came into contact with.

A census of hospitals across England found that more than 100,000 organs had been retained from children as well as adults, usually without the consent of relatives.

The retention scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s transformed relations between doctors and patients, culminating in the Human Tissue Act of 2004, which required explicit consent for the retention of organs and tissue.

Joining Sue MacGregor around the table are Jan Robinson and Jan Valentine, parents who discovered their child’s organs had been retained; Dr Mark Caswell, consultant haematologist at Alder Hey; Kate Jackson, director of the hospital’s Serious Incident Team; and Clare Smith, Health and Family Correspondent for BBC North West.

Producers: Dan Hardoon and Kate Holland
Executive Producer: Deborah Dudgeon
Series Producer: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

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42 minutes

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