Hospital bosses admit failings over storage of human tissue samples

Hospital bosses in South Tyneside have admitted mistakes were made over storing of human tissue samples.

Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 7:26 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 7:50 am
South Tyneside District Hospital.

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust has apologised aftersamples were kept at South Tyneside District Hospital for longer than necessary.

The trust says it is now working with Northumbria and Cleveland Police to reassure people that the mistakes will not happen again.

Dr Shaz Wahid, executive medical director for South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust.

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The statement came after a review of procedures was launched in March – when it emerged that some samples from post mortem examinations had been held at the hospital for too long. Forty-one families in the North East were affected by the error.

A spokesman for the trust said: “South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust fully acknowledges that there was a failure to appropriately follow national guidance on the disposal of tissue samples, which was issued by the Human Tissue Association in 2006, and there were missed opportunities to initiate the process to contact families and arrange for sensitive disposal of the remaining forensic samples.”

The samples had been retained either under police or coroner’s powers.

They related specifically to post mortem examinations carried out between 1990 and 2000 on behalf of the police or coroner by a former Home Office-registered pathologist who also, at the time, worked at South Tyneside District Hospital.

Dr Shaz Wahid, executive medical director for South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust.

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and the police have been working to determine why storage continued at South Tyneside District Hospital when the samples were no longer needed and after the introduction of new regulations about the disposal of such samples which came into force in September 2006.

It emerged that an audit by the trust in autumn 2010 identified there were still some human tissues samples which had been kept under ‘forensic guidance’.

During 2011, records from the trust confirm that discussions took place with the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) in relation to the samples still being held, however, the report says “no decisive action was taken by the trust and it is not clear why no action was taken”.

As a result of the internal review, the trust has taken a number of steps to ensure no similar situations happen in the future. These include:

l A review of all policies relating to post mortem ecaminations and human tissue samples.

l A new system for tracking and processing any samples.

l A new clear process for arranging and progressing cremation or burial in line with family wishes.

l A service quality improvement event to include all staff involved in the management of any human tissue samples.

Executive medical director at South Tyneside NHS Foundation TrustDr Shahid Wahid said letters had been sent out to the affected families and they are free to contact the trust directly should they wish to meet with representatives privately.

A statement on behalf of Northumbria Police and Cleveland Police said: “This has been a distressing process for the families of those involved and we have tried our very best to ensure that it has been dealt with as sensitively as possible. We had no knowledge of the storage and retention of the human tissue held by South Tyneside NHS Hospital.

“Both of our organisations fully recognise the importance of carefully managing the retention and storage of human tissue samples collected for investigative purposes to ensure they are obtained, retained and disposed of, in line with the Human Tissue Act.”

The Trust also confirmed today that it is in contact with a further five families in relation to samples of non-viable foetal tissue which had been kept since 2012, despite arrangements having already been agreed with the families for cremation or burial.

It has apologised unreservedly to the families and support arrangements are being put in place as appropriate. It stressed that no other families are affected by this.