Hospital Scandals Hit Vital Medical Research

Article excerpt

Byline: Jenny Hudson

Vital medical research has been abandoned due to public anger over hospital body parts scandals, a leading Birmingham pathologist warned yesterday.

Most families are refusing to allow any organs or tissue from deceased relatives to be used in research. Before the organ retention controversies at the Diana, Princess of Wales Children's Hospital in Birmingham and Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool, refusal rates were only 20 per cent.

Phillip Cox, a pathologist based at the Women's Hospital in Edgbaston, said research had effectively collapsed because of uncertainty over what was now permitted legally.

And Prof James Underwood, vice-president of the Royal College of Pathologists, hit out at the Government for fuelling the public backlash over organ retention by 'demonising' pathologists. He said there was particular confusion over the regulations for post mortem examinations carried out under the authority of a coroner.

The study of the effect of disease on human tissue, known as histopathology, has played a fundamental part in the advancement of medical science, including the treatment of cancer. But the Department of Health last night confirmed there had been a dramatic increase in the number of people refusing to consent to medical research after a relative's death.

In the late 1980s, there were 20,000 individual donations to medical research nationwide each year following post mortems carried out in hospitals. A decade later, the figure had dropped to just 3,500.

Mr Cox, a pathologist who has carried out extensive studies into congenital diseases which affect babies and the impact of loss of oxygen at birth, is concerned medical research is suffering.

He stopped carrying out research on human tissues 18 months ago, when the organ retention controversies first emerged.

'It is a vast loss for important research. …