Trust chief executives should be responsible for ensuring that staff comply with any new laws introduced to ensure children's tissue is not retained without their parents' consent, according to an interim report by the Bristol Royal Infirmary inquiry.

During its investigation into the death of babies who underwent complex heart surgery at the hospital in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the inquiry heard that thousands of children's hearts have been retained by hospitals across the country.

The report says Bristol was 'not exceptional' and doctors followed the standards of the time. 'We may agree they reflected a degree of professional arrogance, ' it says.'We may lament that they displayed a lack of interest in, or paternalism towards, the views and feelings of parents. But that is how things were.'

The interim report looks into the law surrounding the retention of tissue after coroners' post-mortems, which do not require consent, and hospital post-mortems , which do.

It says: 'It is no hyperbole to describe the law in this particular area as both obscure and arcane.' Relevant statutes do not even define 'tissue' or 'organ' and there are differing interpretations as to who 'owns' what the report prefers to call 'human material' at different points in the process.

The report sets out codes of conduct to cover both types of post-mortem .It also sets out options for clarifying the law. Its key aims are to ensure that 'parents are not excluded'and that they are given 'clear and comprehensible information' about the post-mortem process and the uses to which tissue could be put.

'Hospital trusts must have in place appropriate management systems to allow them to comply with the code of practice or changes in the law, ' the report adds. 'Responsibility for compliance should rest with the chief executive of each trust.'

The interim report will feed into the inquiry into organ retention being conducted by chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson.

The Inquiry Into The Management and Care of Children Receiving Complex Heart Surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary: interim report, removal and retention of human material.