Five Live's body parts FoI victory

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A BBC Five Live investigation using the Freedom of Information Act which uncovered that body parts from America were being sold to British hospitals, could be prohibitively expensive under the Government’s proposed plans to charge for FoI requests.

Five Live’s flagship investigative programme Five Report broadcast a programme towards the end of last year, revealing how the NHS had been sold body parts, including the bones of Alistair Cooke, stolen from bodies in America.

The programme’s editor Matthew Chapman told Press Gazette: “If every hospital had charged us, we just wouldn’t have been able to afford it. “That’s 60, 70 plus hospitals. There is no way that we could have afforded that sort of information if we had to pay for all those FoIs. While it was speculative to some extent, it wasn’t a total fishing expedition — we knew that we would get back some successful responses.” The only information the BBC investigative team had to go on was that some of these body parts had come to one particular hospital in the UK. “The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) refused to divulge which hospital the parts had been sent to.

Yet for Five Report the issue was a matter of public interest, especially as body parts may have been infected as they hadn’t gone through proper screen procedures in America and because the bones had been stolen.

Chapman said: “We sent out FoI requests to pretty much every hospital in England, Wales and Scotland, and what we got back from that was essentially the list that the MHRA wouldn’t give us.” This forced the MHRA to provide Five Live with the list as it saw that the station was getting the material anyway.

Chapman said: “The findings highlighted very important public interest issues which wouldn’t have come out if we had simply accepted the MHRA’s view that nothing should come out.”

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