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Health minister Bairbre de Brun speaks to BBC NI
"The inquiry will have to take account of relatives' needs and concerns"
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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 18:56 GMT
Organ retention inquiry to begin
Minister has announced details at Stormont
The Northern Ireland health minister has announced that a statutory inquiry will be held into organ retention in the province.

Bairbre de Brun outlined the plans to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday, as it emerged that more than 1,100 organs are still retained by the province's hospitals.

The inquiry will review past and present practice of retaining the organs of adults and children after post mortem examinations.

Children's organ retention
Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast - 361
Altnagelvin, Londonderry - 15

It will be followed by a report to the health minister within 12 months.

The inquiry will also have the power to summon witnesses and access documents.

Ms de Brun is also setting up a relative's support group and instigating a review of the Human Tissue's Act which would make it a criminal offence to retain organs without full consent.

The minister gave preliminary details of the investigation set up by her own department into the scale of human organ retention.

She said it had confirmed the number of organs retained in the province had not been on the same scale as England.

"It has found no evidence of any systematic wholesale retention of organs, as was the case in Alder Hey Hospital," she said.

"However, I am clear that absolutely no organs should be retained by the health service without the explicit and informed consent of the family of the deceased.

Bairbre de Brun
Bairbre de Brun: Statement made at Stormont

"This is absolutely essential."

She revealed that since 1970, a total of 376 children's organs had been retained and held without informed consent - 361 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and 15 at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry.

Beyond the Royal, a total of 60 adult organs had been retained, mostly without informed consent, she said.

These were broken down into 45 in Altnagelvin Hospital, three in the Ulster Hospital; and 12 (nine of these with relatives' full consent) in Craigavon Area Hospital.

Earlier, the British Medical Association and watchdog body the Eastern Health Council, said they would back an inquiry.

Eastern Health Council spokeswoman Jane Graham said parents were very unhappy about the explanations they had been given.

"Being told that this was custom and practice is just not enough for parents. They want more answers than that," she told BBC Radio Ulster.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionist Party's, the Reverend Martin Smyth, has welcomed the decision to hold an inquiry.

He said: "I can understand the distress which has been caused to parents.

"It is vital that all the circumstances behind this affair are brought out into the open."

The SDLP's Eddie McGrady has also welcomed the move.

In a statement, Mr McGrady said he "welcomed the decision by the minister for health to initiate an inquiry into the whole human organs scandal in Northern Ireland which represents a reversal of her previous position".

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