Kidney transplant patients win NHS apology for cancer blunder

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The NHS transplant service has apologised to two patients after they contracted cancer from donated kidneys.

Robert Law, 59, from Wirral, and Gillian Smart, 46, from St Helens, were both given the life-saving transplants at the Royal Liverpool Hospital.

The kidneys came from the same deceased female donor and medics only learned after the transplant surgery had taken place that the woman had intravascular B-cell lymphoma, a cancer which affects the immune system.

Both Mr Law and Mrs Smart subsequently had to endure six gruelling sessions of chemotherapy after a biopsy of the transplanted kidneys revealed the same lymphoma.

Mrs Smart said: “I felt devastated to learn that I had received a kidney infected with cancer. The result has been psychologically and physically draining.”

The mother of two had been diabetic for 30 years and was given her transplant on November 26 2010 after a period on dialysis.

Despite being told her elder sister was an “incredibly close match” for transplant, Mrs Smart was called in by surgeons to receive an organ from the deceased donor. Four days later she was given the shattering news that the donor had lymphoma.

Mrs Smart’s sessions of chemotherapy have now been completed and tests show she is cancer-free, but she said the fear of a return of the disease remains.

Mr Law, who is also in remission, said the full details of how and why it happened should be revealed.

He had been suffering from chronic kidney disease for five years when his surgery took place, also on November 26 2010.

His sister had been on standby as a live donor but when he was told kidney from a non-living donor had become available, he decided to spare her the strain of surgery.

Mr Law said he was assured that the donor kidney was healthy but 12 days later he was told that an autopsy had been performed on the donor and it confirmed she had lymphoma.

A biopsy was carried out on Mr Law’s transplanted kidney, which revealed the same lymphoma and he too was forced to undergo a course of chemotherapy.

Mr Law said: “Revealing how this was allowed to happen would ensure that medical professionals throughout the UK can learn from the mistakes made and ensure better care in the future.

“I also feel strongly that the NHS trusts involved should publish a comprehensive report stating what measures have been taken to minimise the risk of a tragic recurrence.”

Lynda Hamlyn, chief executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, said the cause of the mistake was “human error”.

She added: “I do not underestimate how traumatic this has been for those involved, but lessons have been learned through an extensive investigation and a number of changes to working practices have been implemented to help prevent any such event happening again.”

Sue Taylor, Mr Law’s clinical negligence lawyer at JMW law firm, said: “Receiving the admission from NHS Blood and Transplant is a major milestone in Mr Law’s case.

“He, and the public at large, need assurances that lessons have been learned.

“For anyone else to have to go through such a terrible ordeal would be an absolute travesty, and that has been at the fore- front of Mr Law’s mind throughout.”

Mrs Smart’s solicitor, John Kitchingman at Pannone, said: “This has been a long and painful journey for Gillian, both physically and emotionally.”

Both solicitors are in discussions with the NHSBT over compensation for the patients.