'Redfern report' into the retention of organs at Alder Hey

30 January 2001

The Royal Liverpool Children's inquiry was announced in December 1999 following evidence to the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry that a large number of hearts from deceased children were being retained by hospitals without the knowledge or consent of parents.

The inquiry was led by Mr Michael Redfern QC, whose terms of reference were to investigate what had happened at the Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust (or Alder Hey), to explore the extent to which the hospital had been compliant with the Human Tissue Act 1961 and to make recommendations to address any problems identified.

The report was published on 30 January 2001. It suggested that the medical profession had a paternalistic attitude to obtaining consent for the collection of organs, with many involved in the case believing that it was better for the parents not to be informed to avoid causing them undue distress. The report showed that, while the retention of organs without full consent had occurred since the 1940s, large numbers of organs were collected during Dutch pathologist Professor Dick van Velzen's time at the hospital (between 1988–95).

The report was particularly critical of his conduct, suggesting that he had ordered the unethical and illegal removal of organs for the overriding purpose of research, falsified records, statistics and work outputs and had absented himself from clinical duties (among many other allegations of wrong-doing). The report was also critical of the management of Alder Hey and Liverpool University, which knew there were risks involved in Professor van Velzen's appointment but failed to monitor and, where appropriate, discipline him.

The hospital was also criticised in its approach to handling the scandal. There was a drip-feeding approach to providing information, and often inaccurate information was provided, leading to some parents holding multiple funerals as new body parts were identified.

The report made a number of recommendations relating to the system of retaining organs and obtaining consent, including that:

  • the requirements for informed consent for lawful post-mortem and retention of body parts should be made more explicit in the Human Tissue Act
  • the coroner's system should be reviewed
  • the arrangements for joint hospital/university posts should be reviewed
  • bereavement advisor posts should be developed.

Redfern M.
The Royal Liverpool Children's inquiry report.
HMSO; 2001.