Reilly does U-turn ordering HSE not to destroy newborn blood samples

Heel prick cards to be retained until expert group reports

Minister for Health James Reilly last night ordered the Health Service Executive not to destroy more than one million blood samples taken from newborn children in the Republic

Minister for Health James Reilly last night ordered the Health Service Executive not to destroy more than one million blood samples taken from newborn children in the Republic

Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 06:56

In a significant policy U-turn, Minister for Health James Reilly last night ordered the Health Service Executive not to destroy more than one million blood samples taken from newborn children in the Republic.

The heel-prick tests, also known as Guthrie tests, are carried out on all babies to screen for genetic diseases. If not reclaimed by parents or guardians, samples from children born between 1984 and 2002 were to be destroyed shortly.

The decision to destroy the sample cards came after it emerged that samples taken before July 1st, 2011, were being retained without consent and therefore in breach of national and EU data protection legislation. A subsequent policy review carried out by an expert group recommended that samples more than 10 years old be destroyed unless their owners or guardians requested their return.

However, last night the Minister told The Irish Times he had “communicated his deep concern to the HSE that no action should be taken in relation to the destruction of Guthrie cards until an expert group can meet and that the group considers how these cards could be archived and maintained in a manner that meets the data protection commissioner’s concerns”.

Dr Reilly said the expert group, which will include representatives from the Attorney General’s office, will specifically look at why Guthrie cards have not been destroyed in other EU states subject to the same data controls as Ireland.