Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South): I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for the openness and feeling with which he confronted the issues in the awful report that has been presented to us. Will he say whether Professor van Velzen, as distinct from the hospital, is being investigated over the sale of organs? The professor has damaged the high and hard-earned reputation of a fine hospital. Will my right hon. Friend assure people on Merseyside that he will give special support to Alder Hey hospital to help it win back its reputation?
The parents are the ones who have suffered most. Will my right hon. Friend consider carefully the question of compensation, and respect the parents' wishes? Will he bear in mind also that a number of parents have incurred great expense, on top of the grief that they have suffered? Finally, will he assure me that they will receive a personal apology--as distinct from an impersonal apology--for all that they have suffered?
Mr. Milburn: On the latter point, my hon. Friend is right. He is as aware as I am that the events described by the Redfern report could not have been handled in a more insensitive fashion. What happened, and how it was handled subsequently, could not have been more appalling. We must learn from that.
Let me repeat what I said earlier about Alder Hey. It is a fine hospital, staffed by fine people. The doctors, nurses and others who work there have been through thick and thin over the past few years. Yes, they will need specialist support. Strenuous efforts will have to be made by the community and the hospital authorities to rebuild the bond of trust which I know so many people in the hospital are desperate to do. I hope that, before too long, I will be able to visit the hospital and meet some of the parents to discuss these issues.
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): Bereaved parents in my constituency of Southport on Merseyside were probably the first to ring the bells about Alder Hey. They were not necessarily alarm bells but they certainly brought the matter to the attention of the House.
What is happening with consent forms? The old ones are still being signed. Is the consent form to be changed immediately, and what will happen thereafter? Can the word "disposal" please be explained? It could mean that the hospital, or Liverpool university--which is not blameless by a long way--could dispose of organs by sale. They are saying that the disposal was not by way of a sale but had a "transaction fee" attached. Does the right hon. Gentleman go along with that?
Mr. Milburn: It is true that there are many different consent forms within the national health service. Myriad advice is available from a host of organisations such as the Child Bereavement Trust, the Royal College of Pathologists and, indeed, the Department of Health. My view, which is also the recommendation of the chief medical officer, is that we must end that nonsense. We must have a single, standardised consent form, used in all parts of the national health service, so that parents, relatives and patients know what their rights are. We will consult on that; we need to get it right and ensure that the new consent form does not replicate some of the disadvantages of previous consent forms. That is precisely what we are committed to doing, and we will try to do it as quickly as possibly. However, as the events at Alder Hey have shown, sometimes when things are rushed, people get them wrong. I am determined that we learn the lessons from that and get the consent form right.
As for the disposal of organs, particularly the selling of organs, we need to look at the issue in detail. We need to ascertain the facts. We will enshrine in the code of practice precisely the arrangements that the national health service needs to undertake in the future.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): This is a truly awful situation, with echoes of the grave robberies of the 19th century. Listening to my right hon. Friend's statement, I was struck by the fact that the commercial pressure to sell organs needs to be looked at. Does the report contain any reference to the pressure on hospitals to generate income at a local level?
In looking at where we go from here, in particular at the reforms now going through the House and the emphasis on the role of the patient, is it possible to bring forward proposals to involve patients at a local level in the ethical decisions that are made in this context?
Mr. Milburn: When these events were taking place at Alder Hey it was, as the report makes clear, a time of huge change in the national health service. The internal market was being introduced into the health service, although I do not particularly want to go into that today because I do not think it appropriate. However, there were very real financial pressures, and from the outset questions were raised over the way in which van Velzen was appointed and whether appropriate funding had been made available for his post and his department. That is what the report states--clearly we must learn from that too.
Apart from the specific changes that we have to make in response to the report and to other evidence, we need to effect a wider set of changes in the NHS. Although they are extremely simple on one level, they are extremely complex on another. We need to ensure that our interests--those of the people who use the service; namely, the patients--always come first. It is the vested
I believe profoundly that some of our proposed changes--for example, the appointment of patients to trust boards and patients forums, with patients on the spot in the hospital--will make a profound difference.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I thank the Secretary of State for the way he dealt with the statement. One of the new facts that emerged is the information about the number of hospitals that are holding organs. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman must be in a dilemma; tomorrow, the newspapers and the media will try to find out which hospitals are involved. Clearly, on the one hand, the sooner we can give that information, the better--at least perhaps people will know that their hospital did not retain organs. However, on the other hand, hospitals will have to be ready to provide the information. Will the Secretary of State help the House by telling us how that will be handled? He might also help the media, by asking them to be careful how they deal with the matter.
Mr. Milburn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Yes, those are real dilemmas--we should be clear about that. I believe profoundly in one important principle--it is a question that I, as Secretary of State, and all my colleagues have to be able to answer: in the end, does the patient have the right to know? The answer must be yes. However, that brings downsides as well as upsides. Risks are attached to that principle--not least because, sometimes, the information is not handled as responsibly as it should be. In this case, we should put the information into the public domain and that is precisely what we will do.
Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): I thank my right hon. Friend for his steadfast determination from the beginning to ensure that the full truth of what happened at Alder Hey hospital was published. I also thank him for his acknowledgement that the Royal Liverpool children's hospital is a fine one, staffed by many dedicated employees, who have had a difficult time during this period. Every day, the hospital saves and improves the lives of children and it will continue to do so.
For 15 months, many of my constituents from bereaved families have been trying to get at the full truth of what happened to their child. How long will it be before we can tell those families that they have the fullest possible information--even if it is incomplete? How long before we can say, "That's it, you know everything that there is to know"?
Mr. Milburn: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the role that she has played both in liaising with the parents and in supporting those who were working at the hospital through extremely difficult times. In some ways, we shall never know the full truth about what happened at Alder Hey. Certainly, the lack of accurate records and the appalling record keeping mean that some parents will never know the truth about what happened to their child--I regret that deeply, but, sadly, little can be done about it now.