NEWS

Trusts are facing escalating bills and huge workforce pressures as they try to deal with the fallout from the organ retention scandal.

Some£300,000 has just been earmarked by the Retained Organs Commission - set up in the aftermath of the Alder Hey inquiry - for English trusts, but some believe the cost of tracing all retained organs and returning them to families could run to millions.

The country's main teaching hospitals have had thousands of calls from anxious families desperate to discover if their relatives' organs were among those plundered for medical research.

In response, clinicians, pathologists, clerical and chaplaincy staff have joined teams dedicated to tracking those people who had organs taken from them, finding where the organs were eventually stored and arranging their possible return.

Individual trusts - some unwilling to be identified - have told HSJ that there had been 'horrendous' demands on human resources and budgets.

Chris Gunn, project manager of organ retention at Southampton University Hospitals trust, which held over 1,500 organs, body parts and foetuses, said: 'It could be running into tens - perhaps hundreds - of thousands of pounds. It depends on how long it takes to collect all the data.

'Some of the inquiries have been complicated. We have cases of people asking for details on post mortems which were carried out 30 years ago - something which is made more difficult because of the small amount of information supplied to us.'

But he added: 'The most fundamental aspect is that there can be no short cuts.We all recognise the absolute importance of the work to the families caught up in this, and our staff have been extremely dedicated in dealing with inquiries.'

Len Fenwick, chief executive at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals trust, said he had been forced to redirect resources to cope with the workload and believes the cost for the trust could run into a sixfigure sum.

Gloucestershire Royal Hospital trust - where last year's census found 58 organs - said its inquiries had taken 235 working hours from chief executive-level down, with many members of staff having to work extra hours in order to cope.

The Department of Health believes that the cost of the work across the country would 'probably not' run into millions.

'At the moment we are looking perhaps at hundreds of thousands of pounds which in terms of the budgets of trusts and health authorities is not that significant, ' a spokesman said.

'Who will pay has yet to be finalised.We do realise that for the teaching hospitals and the medical schools where many organs were retained, the costs involved will be higher than for other trusts.'

Although the Retained Organ Commission wants work completed as soon as possible, it has stressed the importance of ensuring families are treated sensitively and that the information is accurate before organs are returned.