Published: 31/01/2002, Volume II2, No. 5790 Page 22
Your news focus, 'Coming to grief ' (17 January) states that former Alder Hey chief executive Hilary Rowland 'was dismissed in November, following criticism that she had not known the extent of organ retention at the trust and failed to address the issue when it became public'.
The disciplinary panel found Ms Rowland had committed only one act which amounted to misconduct. This was a failure to correct wrong information which had been given to a parent. Though Ms Rowland has resisted pressure to air her story in the media (and will do so until the legal proceedings are resolved), it is important that the true position is clear.
When news of organ retention became widely known in September 1999, Alder Hey was understandably besieged with enquiries from parents. The database of retained organs was far from flawless, and staff were under great pressure.
Unfortunately, the mother of a child who had died at Alder Hey in 1993 was mistakenly informed in October 1999 that none of her daughter's organs had been retained. It was never suggested that responsibility for this error lay with Ms Rowland.
In November 1999, Ms Rowland was made aware of the case and was informed that there had been an error. She was advised that small pieces of tissue had been retained, but that to contact the mother to tell her this would be very distressing and detrimental to the mother's wellbeing. Despite her reservations, Ms Rowland decided to accept that advice, and the hospital did not contact the mother to correct their error. Ms Rowland has always accepted responsibility for that decision, and acknowledges that, with hindsight, an error of judgement was made. The mother should have been told.
It is this matter alone which has been found by the trust to constitute disciplinary misconduct. The decision to dismiss her in these circumstances is the subject of an appeal, and we are waiting for the appeal hearing. The criticism to which your article referred was not part of the reason she was dismissed, and it would not be appropriate to rebut that criticism in detail at this stage.
Every possible effort was made by Ms Rowland and her team at Alder Hey to address the issue in the months after September 1999. This was a scandal unprecedented in nature and in scale in the NHS, and the team at Alder Hey had to forge new ground without any meaningful support from the NHS as a body. Detailed guidance now available to trusts in this situation was simply not there at the time.
David Franey Russell Jones and Walker Solicitors Manchester