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Stolen body parts in patients

12th September 2006

21072006_mortuary1.jpgThe Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says that potentially contaminated body parts allegedly stolen in the US may have been implanted into British patients.

The firm at the centre of the scandal, Biomedical Tissue Services (BTS) in New York, last year exported 77 body parts to the UK. The MHRA says it has alerted 20 NHS trusts.

Biomedical Tissue Services was forced to close by the US Food and Drug Administration last autumn, when it was alleged that it had forged consent forms and other documents to gain access to dead bodies from undertakers.

The imported bones were taken by BTS from corpses in US funeral parlours both without the deceased’s prior consent and without adequate checks ensuring the bodies were free of disease.

The US Food and Drug Administration ordered a recall of the potentially tainted products late last year; it warned that many patients could have been exposed to HIV and other diseases, but said the risk of infection was minimal.

The body of BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who died of cancer aged 95 in March 2004, was reported to have been caught up in the case - his bones were allegedly stolen and sold by BTS.

The MHRA said it was up to individual doctors to decide what to do with regards to removing the implants or deciding it was less risk to leave them in; all were pieces of bone which were grafted on to patients needing hip or jaw operations.

There has been an increase in imports because of shortages of bones and other tissue in Britain, due in part to restrictions imposed after the scandal over the unauthorised retention of organs at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool. However, the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) does not know which countries export skin, bone and ligaments to Britain or the quantities shipped. However the HTA does 'require establishments storing tissue to have systems and operating procedures to allow an audit trail in case of an adverse event'.

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