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‘Not a major bungle’: Transplant group defends donor process after breach

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Related Story: Parents 'horrified' after three babies given tissue from cancer patient

Transplant groups have defended Queensland's organ and tissue donation process, after a major clinical breach prompted an urgent review of the state's heart valve bank.

Queensland Health revealed on Friday that four patients, including three babies less than a year old, received tissue from a donor who had brain cancer.

The medical breach was not discovered until a recent unrelated audit of the Queensland Heart Valve Bank (QHVB), more than a year after the patients underwent the surgery.

Transplant Australia director and head of renal medicine at Westmead hospital Dr Jeremy Chapman said breaches of this nature were not common.

"The use of organs and tissue from people with cancer is a carefully regulated and a carefully thought through process of risk-benefit management," he said.

"Transmission of cancer from tissue is extremely rare — in fact I don't know of a case where a heart valve has transmitted cancer, certainly not cancer of the brain.

"So this is a very remote risk."

Lady Cilento Children's Hospital

On Friday chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said it was highly unlikely the tissue was cancerous and there was little risk to patients, but the families were distressed and horrified by the news.

She said the three babies received the transplants at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane, but the hospital was not responsible for the breach.

The Heart Valve Bank is operated by Metropolitan South Hospital and Health Service (HHS) on behalf of the entire state.

It closed in January and the HHS is now formally investigating a range of staffing issues after a number of internal complaints.

Three staff have been stood down pending the outcome of the separate investigations.

Opposition health spokeswoman Ros Bates said on Friday she was "extremely concerned" by the "utterly unacceptable incident".

"There has clearly been a major failure within the system that has resulted in potentially cancerous tissue given to four Queensland children," she said.

In a statement, Health Minister Steven Miles asked the director-general to commission an independent, external investigation into the incident.

'I don't see it as a major bungle'

Dr Chapman said he was not concerned the clinical breach would cast a shadow over the process of organ and tissue donation.

"I don't see it as a major bungle, I see it as part of process of trying to achieve miracles from the donations that people are prepared to offer — the process of risk evolution is one that has to be constant," he said.

Professor Jeremy Chapman

"We have the best outcomes in solid organ transplantation around the world — the results are better than anywhere else, there's no question about that.

"This country produces absolutely outstanding results for patients … and it's because we have a fantastic system."

Dr Chapman said Queensland Health had responded appropriately to the breach and was confident people could maintain their faith in the donation system.

"This is part of the process of open disclosure — no process is 100 per cent correct, so whenever something occurs that you can learn from, you have to learn … and Queensland Health have demonstrated that perfectly to me," he said.

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