The NHS Medical Director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has said that hospitals should bury or cremate foetuses that have been aborted, instead of incinerating them.
This response has come about after it was revealed that certain hospitals have been treating unborn foetuses as clinical waste. According to Channel 4 Dispatches programme, approximately 10 NHS trusts have been burning the foetuses with rubbish. Two more trusts disposed of the bodies in incinerators that are used as heating for hospitals.
Dr Dan Poulter, the Health Minister, has stated that this practice was ‘totally unacceptable’ and has prompted him to ask Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, to communicate with all NHS Hospital Trusts and make it plain that this practice should stop immediately.
The chief medical officer has also made contact with the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) to request clear guidance on the issue. He stated that the majority of hospitals are treating the matter in a suitable manner, but the procedure should be the same for all hospital and the HTA has been asked to make sure that it takes action on this issue immediately.
The Human Tissue Authority has a code of practice related to the disposal of human tissue, including foetal remains, that should be followed by all hospitals.
It states that females who have had a miscarriage or an abortion should be advised of the different available options, such as cremation, incineration or burial. It further states that the disposal of a foetus by incineration should be viewed as a ‘sensitive’ issue and should not be carried out alongside the incineration of waste.
Professor Keogh has stated in his letter that his belief is not to make use of incineration at all. He said that it incineration has been acknowledged and is not illegal in the UK, but current professional guidance makes it clear that it is inappropriate. He feels that other methods offer dignity during these ‘sensitive’ situations.
According to the Dispatches programme some of the females were not advised about the incineration of their aborted foetus. The Chief Inspector of Hospital from the Care Quality Commission, Professor Sir Mike Richards, has stated his disappointment in Trusts who do not take the time to consult with the women and their families. He stated that it is a breach of the commission’s standard on involvement and respect for the people who make use of their services. He has stated that he would be pleased if Dispatches would share the evidence they have.
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