Probe into missing brain sparks autopsy fears

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QUESTION marks are today hanging over autopsy standards in the Lothians after it emerged that a review ordered after a child’s body was mistakenly released without a brain uncovered a series of major issues.

The internal report commissioned by NHS Lothian, which was previously kept secret and has been released through Freedom of Information legislation, reveals that concerns had been raised over “a variety of issues affecting the conduct and governance of autopsies in NHS Lothian”.

Following the investigation a raft of recommendations were made to tighten up practices after it was found “errors and inconsistencies” were common in vital documentation, including contradictions in the wishes of relatives over which organs should be returned to loved ones’ bodies before funerals.

It was also found there was no overarching system in place to determine the location of organs that had been temporarily removed from bodies for specialist examinations, constituting “a potentially serious failure of accountability and audit”.

It is understood the investigation, which concluded in August 2011, was ordered following an incident in which a child’s body was released to a funeral director without the brain.

But despite an earlier investigation into that incident taking place, the author of the latest report said it was “disappointing” to find that not all of the recommendations had been implemented.

James Dooley had a post- mortem report into his father Edward’s death in 2008 privately reviewed and said the team found a series of errors, including the date of the examination, information surrounding the identity of the body and that a blood sampled was labelled wrongly. He has since called for a public inquiry into autopsies in Lothian between 2008 and 2012.

Mr Dooley said: “After what we went through, I don’t have any confidence in the way it was running. I know my dad’s brain was taken out so I’m now hoping that’s with his body and I’ll be asking them to confirm that’s the case.

“It makes me question whether the Crown Office have been getting the proper reports and that procedures have been carried out correctly.”

Following the review of autopsies, which in Lothian can be carried out on NHS Lothian premises or at the council-run City Mortuary, 13 recommendations were made.

They included that the health board, Crown Office and 
council work together more effectively, that bodies should be labelled when organs had been removed and needed to be re-united with the body, and that an email system to improve communication between autopsy teams is introduced.

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “NHS Lothian commissioned an internal review of autopsies in 2011 following concerns being raised about the governance of the autopsy service. This review looked at processes and procedures and made a number of recommendations which we are continuing to implement and review in order to improve the service and ensure future good practice.”

Police kept body parts

IT emerged last week that police in England had kept almost 500 body parts in cases dating back to the 1960s.

Among the cases, 89 involved children and teenagers, including the case in which the brain of a child from Dorset was kept for 13 years. The parents were often not informed.

In 2006, it was agreed that relatives of people whose organs were retained by Scottish hospitals without consent were to be paid £5000 compensation.

It followed a scandal of 6000 organs and tissues being retained by Scottish hospitals between 1970 and 2000, many from children.