Necropsy practice after the "organ retention scandal": requests, performance, and tissue retention

J L Burton, J C E Underwood
Journal of Clinical Pathology 2003, 56 (7): 537-41

AIMS: After the so called "organ retention scandal" in the UK this study set out to assess the impact on death certification and hospital (consent) necropsies, including the postmortem retention of tissues and organs.

METHODS: Data were prospectively gathered over a one year period for all deaths occurring at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, UK to determine the frequencies with which death certificates were completed and necropsies were requested. The seniority of the clinician undertaking these duties was recorded. Pathologists were asked to record the extent of every necropsy during the study period. The type and planned uses of tissues retained were recorded.

RESULTS: Death certificates were issued for 88.5% of the 966 deaths for which clinicians completed proformas. Of these, 88.9% were issued by preregistration and senior house officers. Consent was sought for a necropsy in 6.2% of cases (usually by non-consultant staff) and was granted in 43.4% of these. The overall, medicolegal, and hospital necropsy rates were 13.4%, 9.9%, and 3.5%, respectively. Tissues were retained from 55.4% of necropsies for diagnostic purposes, although sampling does not appear to be systematic.

CONCLUSIONS: Death certification and seeking consent for a necropsy are frequently delegated to junior clinical staff. This may explain the low standard of death certification reported by others and the low necropsy rate. The decline in the necropsy rate and the low rate of sampling for histological examination highlight the decline of the hospital necropsy and the lack of a systematic approach to tissue sampling.

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