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J Clin Pathol 67:10-13 doi:10.1136/jclinpath-2013-201869
  • Review

Mind the gap: are NHS trusts falling short of recommended standards for consent to autopsy?

  1. Michael Osborn3
  1. 1Imperial College School of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Cellular Pathology, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  3. 3Department of Cellular Pathology, Imperial College Healthcare Trust (St Mary's Campus), London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ime Eka, Imperial College School of Medicine, Imperial College London c/o Dr Michael Osborn, Department of Cellular Pathology, 4th Floor Clarence Memorial Wing, St Mary's Hospital, London W2 1NY; ime.eka09{at}imperial.ac.uk
  • Received 18 July 2013
  • Revised 12 August 2013
  • Accepted 14 August 2013
  • Published Online First 23 September 2013

Abstract

The decline of the hospital autopsy is a well-known phenomenon that shows no sign of ending. Debate continues for the reasons behind this, but inadequate consent practices are thought to play a role. The furore resulting from organ retention scandals at Bristol Royal Infirmary and The Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital led to widespread soul searching in the medical profession, and a fundamental change in how we treat the dead body. In response, the 2004 Human Tissue Act was created, and consent is now centrally placed to permit all activities dealing with the cadaver, including autopsy. This article reflects on consent practices for hospital autopsy in England and Wales. Relevant policies from 26 National Health Service trusts were examined against the recommended standards set by the Human Tissue Authority. We found numerous failures of multiple trusts to follow these standards. Several trust policies failed to outline basic information to guide staff in conducting the consent process, such as the training requirements of the consent taker, and the desired approach to take consent. Many trusts failed to outline vital recommendations of the Human tissue Authority, such as the requirement of the consent taker to be experienced, trained in dealing with the bereaved and well informed on autopsy practice, as well as the requirement to have witnessed an autopsy. We recommend trusts reassess their practices in order meet the established standards with an emphasis on educating staff and developing a team-based approach to consent taking.