Tuesday. 2 September 2014

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NHS pays compensation to family for donor blunder

Payout and apology follows disarray in computer records on donation preferences

It is a way of showing they have mucked up – good and proper

Roger Goss, co-director, Patient Concern

UK health officials have agreed to pay compensation to the family of an organ donor whose heart was mistakenly taken for an operation.

The National Health Service has been plagued by problems with computer records on the wishes of would-be donors. Donors can give permission for any of their organs to be taken after they die, or can specify which ones they want to give.

News of the payout comes as the NHS was hit this week by revelations about how the brains of dead children were secretly stored at a hospital without their families’ permission for up to 15 years.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), the health authority responsible for the supply of organs in England and Wales, told Exaro that it had paid £1,500 compensation – and apologised – to the family of the donor whose heart was removed for transplant. It is the first case where compensation has been paid to a donor’s family for such an error.

A spokeswoman for the transplant authority said: “I can reveal that a claim was settled by NHSBT with one claimant who received a final settlement of £1,500, which included legal fees and VAT.”

The authority refused to say whether the donor was a child or adult, male or female, citing “patient confidentiality”. It said that the donor had specified only that corneas, kidneys and pancreas should be taken after death.

The heart was, in the event, found to be unsuitable for transplant. So, doctors harvested the donor’s heart valves instead. NHSBT blamed the error on a software fault with the computer records.

Roger Goss, co-director of patient’s rights group, Patient Concern, said that it was difficult to say what compensation was appropriate in such cases. “It is a way of showing they have mucked up – good and proper.

“Your guess is as good as mine as to what is a good ballpark figure. I cannot see there being someone who can say that such a figure is appropriate to compensate families of the victims for the distress caused.”

He said that the family in another case, which is being supported by his group, was “outraged” by a similar transplant error. “What is really important is that this should never have happened in the first place.”

He said that Patient Concern held a series of meetings with NHSBT to discuss what was being done to prevent a repetition.

Problems over donor records only came to light when NHSBT wrote to thank new donors for joining the register and outlining which organs they had agreed to donate.

Some donors wrote back to say that the details on what organs they had agreed to donate were wrong.

A government-ordered review by Professor Sir Gordon Duff, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Sheffield, found that donation wishes of 800,000 people may have been wrongly recorded. He blamed faulty computer software.

His review, published two years ago, found that 25 people had the wrong organs removed after death for transplant.

The NHSBT spokeswoman said: “A review of all of our processes was carried out to ensure a similar error does not occur in the future. We now have sample checks in place, and each new registrant is sent a letter to confirm the organs selected.”

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