De Brun moves on organ retention scandal


Wide-ranging measures to rebuild public confidence shattered by revelations that body parts had been stored for medical research in Northern Ireland hospitals were revealed today.

After a 14-month inquiry, health minister Ms Bairbre de Brun vowed to overhaul the present rules governing organ retention and introduce tighter consent requirements.

She said: "It was to draw a line under past practices and to develop a firm framework for shaping future practice that I established a statutory inquiry.

"I was struck by the importance of taking urgent action to support the rights and expectations of families who had been touched by the intense sadness of the death of a loved one."

She said she would be implementing the report's recommendations in full. The measures include:

  • a complete repeal of the current Human Tissue Act;
  • the Department of Health issuing guidelines on the future use of blocks and slides within six months;
  • no research involving human body parts being allowed without explicit consent;
  • trusts introducing consent forms and information leaflets after clearance by relatives;
  • health trusts informing the department annually that post-mortem examination practice has been in accordance with the principles of the report;
  • a two-year multi-media campaign to inform relatives that they can retain blocks and slides;
  • education and information campaigns to educate the public about post-mortems;
  • medical staff receiving patient grief and bereavement training.

Ms de Brun added: "I intend to draw up an action plan to provide a schedule for the actions outlined above and will share this with the Assembly health committee in the coming weeks."

The inquiry was launched in March last year after it was disclosed that the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast had retained the organs of 361 infants without consent.

It was later revealed that more than 1,100 body parts had been stored in hospitals across the province.

As the inquiry, chaired by leading QC Mr John O'Hara, was preparing to be finalised, it emerged two weeks ago that Queen's University in Belfast had kept a bank of 190 adult brains and 90 embryos and foetuses.

Urging Ms de Brun to act without delay, Assembly members said the report could go some way to alleviating the anguish of the relatives.

Health committee chairman Dr Joe Hendron said: "The implementation of the recommendations should, I hope, bring to a conclusion almost two years of heartache for families bearing in mind the massive psychological trauma out there."