Apology to nuclear workers' families

17 November 2010

The UK government has apologised to the families of nuclear workers for retaining post-mortem samples for analysis without consent.


A three-year inquiry concluded yesterday into the circumstances under which samples from dead British citizen's bodies were taken without their families' consent as part of national radiation protection studies.


Worst affected were the families of 76 workers, the majority from Sellafield with the rest coming from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and the Atomic Weapons Establishment.


The studies on nuclear workers took place between 1955 and 1992, some of them in contravention of the Human Tissues Act of 1961. All the samples were analysed at laboratories at Sellafield and there was "a lack of ethical consideration of the implications of the research." In addition, "there was a lack of supervision, and relationships between pathologists, coroners and Sellafield medical officers became too close."


When carrying out a post-mortem examination of a former Sellafield employee, pathologists at West Cumberland Hospital would contact Sellafield's chief medical officer, Geoffrey Schofield, in order to obtain the person's radiation history. Schofield was "eager" to obtain organs and "was therefore easily able to obtain organs for analysis." With a senior position in BNFL, Schofield was under "little if any managerial supervision or control" and his work accounted for 64 of the 76 cases. A further 11 individuals were analysed by Schofield's successor Adam Lawson, and one more by Andrej Slovak.


Separately, bone samples were improperly taken from over 6000 people - mainly children - in a Medical Research Council program measuring levels of strontium-90.


Announcing the inquiry's final report, energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne said: "Across its entire remit, the inquiry found that families' views about organ retention were not always sought, and that very few families knew that organs were taken for analysis."


The inquiry was carried out by Michael Redfern, who also investigated similar malpractice at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital. Huhne said the report "acknowledges that these events occurred a number of decades ago, and puts them within the context of the times and current practice."


UK legislation has since been updated by the 1984 Coroners Rules and the 2004 Human Tissues Act to place proper emphasis on communication and families' wishes.


Huhne expressed his "heartfelt regret" adding, "we have learned the lessons of the past... there is now a rigorous regulatory system in place, in which both the public and professionals can have confidence."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News