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Thursday 18 September 2014

Cancer worker 'sold body parts' for cash and alcohol

Published 31/07/2014 | 07:54

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A senior member of staff at a leading cancer hospital has been accused of receiving bottles of whisky and cash in return for supplying body part samples to private drugs companies.

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Rosie Cooper MP has written to the watchdog, the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), calling for an investigation into whistle-blower claims about the troubled Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

The hospital has fiercely denied any allegations of wrongdoing and said there was no evidence that anyone had profited or that samples had been sold on without patient permission. It said no one has been suspended as a result of the claim.

The HTA said it was now working with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the regulator Monitor to look into the allegations as part of a wider probe into the management of the hospital.

Ms Cooper, the MP for West Lancashire, who has tabled a series of Parliamentary questions about the Christie, described the claims as “serious and grave” and said she has also written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to alert him to her concerns.

She said: “The allegation tissue samples were sold without patients’ permission if proven will bring shame on the NHS. The idea that individuals have allegedly profited from these sales, again if proven, would be abhorrent.

“Establishing the facts and investigating these allegations as a matter of absolute urgency is essential on an issue that could break the trust between patients and the NHS.”

The Christie is the largest cancer centre in Europe treating 40,000 patients a year many of them referred from across the UK for specialist care. It has been rocked by a series of controversies affecting the most senior levels of management.

Chief executive Caroline Shaw was suspended last year from her £195,000-a-year job pending an internal disciplinary investigation in connection with a business networking trip to Ibiza.

In February chairman Lord Bradley stood down in the wake of the row over the handling of the suspension and was replaced by Sir Hugh Taylor, chair of Guy's and St Thomas' as interim chair.

Meanwhile, the former human resources director sought £300,000 damages for a stress-related illness after she claimed she was the victim of bullying and false imprisonment at the hospital, which denied the allegation.

The interim chief executive Roger Spencer has recently reassured staff that they are free to speak out and written to Ms Cooper telling her that gagging clauses in staff contracts would not be enforced.

A spokeswoman for the Christie said it had not received details of the Labour MP’s concerns which were sparked by claims made by a whistleblower in a statement to Monitor and the CQC.

She said: “We have liaised with both the HTA and Health Research Authority and have reviewed our Tissue Biobank processes and procedures and we have found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

“We have been open and transparent since these concerns were first raised and we believe there is absolutely no truth in these allegations at the Christie.”

Sarah Bedwell, director of regulation at the HTA, said the organisation had been contacted by the Ms Cooper concerning the sale of tissue samples.

“We are working closely with the CQC and Monitor to make sure that these claims are looked into fully,” she said.

Representatives of Monitor and the CQC are due to visit the Christie to determine whether it is being adequately run and to look at the leadership of the hospital.

 “We take whistle-blowing extremely seriously and that is why we met with a group of people with a number of concerns about The Christie NHS Foundation Trust,” a Monitor spokesman said.

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