BERLIN: German medical authorities are calling for an extensive overhaul of the country's organ transplant program after transplant centres were put under criminal investigation over allegations they had systematically manipulated donor waiting lists.
Scores of patients are believed to have been given priority access to donor organs after doctors falsified the severity of their illnesses to ensure they received treatment before other patients in Europe.
The revelations have led to accusations of widespread corruption and dishonesty in the system, and shattered public trust. Since the scandal emerged last year with a handful of cases that initially were believed to be isolated, the number of Germans willing to donate organs has plummeted.
Post-death donations have dropped by between 20 per cent and 40 per cent, according to the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation , which said the public's faith had been ''massively shaken''.
Investigations have found that, in at least four clinics, patient data was distorted or falsified to improve these patients' chances of getting an organ. At least 107 cases of obvious manipulation have come to light so far.
At one clinic in Munich, in southern Germany, doctors were accused of ''active manipulation'' of data after investigators discovered cases in which patients' blood samples were mixed with urine to make them appear sicker than they were. Urine in the blood is an indication that internal organs are no longer functioning properly.
In two cases, blood samples were submitted from people who had never even been patients at the clinic.
Clinics have come under investigation in Gottingen, Regensburg, Munich and Leipzig. All of them are university teaching hospitals with excellent reputations.
Experts blame the growing competition between clinics, which increasingly are coming under pressure to boost revenue. The worldwide shortage of organ donors exacerbates the problem.
Senior doctors and transplant surgeons across the four clinics have been suspended pending further investigations.
''There are too many transplant centres in Germany and too few organs,'' the head of Germany's foundation for patient protection, Eugen Brysch, said.
A doctor in Gottingen is reported to have had written into his contract that he would receive bonus payments for every liver he was able to transplant. This system of rewards already is deeply criticised by Germany's medical authorities.
In other cases, doctors are believed to have come under pressure to help increase the prestige of the institutions where they worked. The more successful transplants a hospital carries out, the more its reputation is boosted and the more funding it is likely to receive.
At Leipzig's University Clinic, surgeons are accused of blocking the investigation by Germany's General Medical Council after claiming to have mislaid patients' notes, including details of who was receiving dialysis treatment.
The documents finally came to light this month, allegedly revealing a similar pattern of data manipulation.
The medical council has identified at least 38 cases of manipulation in Leipzig, allegedly involving distorted applications to Eurotransplant, the European organ transplant centre in Leiden, the Netherlands.
Guardian News & Media