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Police launch investigation into university hospital mortuary; Offences are suspected under the Human Tissue Act.

Byline: Madeleine Brindley

A POLICE investigation has been launched into working conditions at Wales' largest hospital's mortuary.

It is understood that South Wales Police is investigating whether any offences have been committed under the Human Tissue Act at the University Hospital of Wales mortuary in Cardiff.

The Human Tissue Authority, which carried out a non-routine inspection of the mortuary at the end of July, has referred its findings to the police force.

The inspection led to two of UHW's licences being suspended earlier this month.

This meant post-mortem examinations could no longer be carried out at UHW and are now being performed at other hospitals, including Llandough Hospital.

The results of the HTA's inspection have not been made public, but it is understood inspectors found failings in practices, policies, equipment and facilities.

The mortuary carries out up to 600 post-mortem examinations every year, the majority under the authority of the coroner.

Jan Williams, the incoming chief executive of Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, said: "The trust can confirm that the HTA has referred its inspection report to the South Wales Police.

"The trust will be co-operating fully with the police and in the meantime the alternative arrangements put in place for the conduct of post-mortems will continue."

South Wales Police Assistant Chief Constable Colette Paul said last night that the strategic co-ordinating group held two multi-agency meetings on August 25 and 27 to bring together key organisations and partners to manage the referral of the Human Tissue Authority's report.

She said: "One of our primary objectives is to sensitively manage the impact the referral from the HTA may have.

"The partnership meetings discussed how support can best be provided.

"South Wales Police received the inspection report from the Human Tissue Authority on Friday, August 21, and are currently considering its content in relation to any offences that may have been committed under the Human Tissue Act.

"It is too early to say if offences have been committed.

"I would like to reassure everyone that we are working hard with our partners to deal with the issues raised by the HTA.

"The HTA will continue to work with Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust about the action needed to bring their mortuary systems at the University Hospital of Wales up to the required HTA standards."

The Human Tissue Act 2004 was introduced following the NHS organ retention scandal and makes consent the funda-mentaprinciple underpinning the use and storage of human tissue.

The Act makes removing, storing or using human tissue without consent, and the taking and testing of DNA without consent, illegal.

Organ trafficking and storing tissue or organs for a purpose not stated are also illegal.

Dr Shaun Griffin, director of communications at the HTA, said: "South Wales Police has issued a statement about the referral of our inspection report. We are not able to comment further at this stage.

"We will continue to work with Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust on the action needed to bring their mortuary systems up to the required HTA standards.

"The HTA is an independent regulator that works to protect the interests of the public and professionals; and helps maintain their confidence. Our inspections focus on mortuaries and the systems that are in place to ensure post-mortem examinations take place in suitable facilities by trained staff working to stringent procedures."

Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust has set up a helpline for anyone with concerns relating to the mortuary problems. It can be contacted on 0800 952 0244 between 9am and 5pm over the Bank Holiday weekend.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 29, 2009
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