Heidelberg doctors ‘bent heart transplant rules’

Prosecutors are investigating the university hospital in Heidelberg over claims that doctors there broke rules to get their patients faster heart transplants.

Heidelberg doctors 'bent heart transplant rules'
A human organ for transplant is carried into a Berlin operating theatre. Photo: DPA

Auditors from the German Doctors' Association (BÄK) found “widespread” irregularities in the transplant system, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported on Thursday.

Prosecutors in the world-famous university town have opened an “investigation into suspicion of attempted grievous bodily harm through manipulation of heart transplant patients' waiting lists,” they told SZ.

They have removed a number of patient files from the hospital and are still working through them to identify suspicious cases.

The hospital confirmed to the SZ that a total of 34 patients who underwent transplants in 2010 and 2011 had “heart transplant reports that didn't completely comply with the guidelines of the BÄZ.”

Doctors are believed to have tampered with patients' files to make them appear more unwell and move them up heart transplant waiting lists.

Now the hospital says it is working with the authorities to clear up the allegations, and has itself filed charges against those responsible.

Irregularities in transplants in Heidelberg are just the latest in a series of cases that have also hit hospitals in Berlin and Munich in recent years.

Doctors bucking the rules

Transplant doctors are often tempted to bend the rules in their patients' favour when the sick don't meet the strict criteria set out by the authorities, Christian Zimmermann, president of the German Patients' Association (APV) told The Local.

“Of course I'm sympathetic to the doctors, but I don't agree with what they've done,” Zimmermann said.

“They depart from the guidelines not out of financial interest, but because they disagree with the rules.

“Instead, they ought to protest and say out loud that they disagree, go to the ethics commission and have a public debate,” he said.

Zimmermann is concerned that repeated scandals over organ transplantation will reduce the number of people willing to donate their tissue after their death.

An official German organ donor card. Photo: DPA

The ethical questions doctors face about which recipients should get priority are never going to be fully resolved – for example, whether young people should come before the old or whether those with 'lifestyle' diseases, like liver cirrhosis caused by alcoholism, should be at the back of the queue.

That's why “there should be a 'corridor' with some margin for doctors to have input into decisions, rather than a rigid set of rules,” Zimmermann said.

At the moment, “doctors are exposing themselves to prosecution for murder or manslaughter, with serious legal consequences, and causing serious doubts among the general public,” he added.

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Norway saw fewer hospital patients in 2020 despite pandemic

Fewer patients were treated in hospital in 2020 than in 2019, with Covid-19 being the reason for the drop, according to Statistics Norway.

Norway saw fewer hospital patients in 2020 despite pandemic
Illustration photo by Audun Braastad / AFP)

The decline in patients has been largest for those awaiting planned treatments, but the number of people requiring immediate attention also dropped too, according to Statistics Norway figures.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals had to prioritise differently in 2020 as a result of the increased need for intensive care units.

“2020 was a year marked by pandemics and restrictions. In many places hospitals have had to prioritise differently due to the coronavirus, and perhaps particularly as the result of the increased need for intensive care,” the report said.

This has contributed to a decrease in the number of patients in hospitals at all levels of care.

The number of patients with 24-hour stays decreased by 7 percent. The total number of days spent in hospital fell by 11 percent or 380,000 fewer days in a hospital bed in 2020 compared to 2019.

Hospital stays lasting at least 24 hours include both planned and unplanned visits. In 2020 planned visits accounted for 29 percent of all visits, which is a decrease of 16 percent from the previous year, while visits for immediate appointments decreased by 3 percent.

READ ALSO: Norwegian senior medic calls for geographical division of Covid-19 restrictions

The figures show a decline for almost all diagnostic groups, but cancer patients had a smaller decline than other groups.

Planned treatment of various forms of cancer decreased by 8 percent, but acute help for tumours saw an increase of 11 percent.

This reverses a trend of numbers of patients in hospitals increasing year on year. The increases had primarily been driven by patients at outpatient clinics.