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Reform the Human Tissue Act to help medical research

Comment 1st July 2010

The Human Tissue Act 2004 is a important legislation in concept but as enacted, is far too complex, engendering a major beaurocracy and pervading areas where there no conceivable public interest such as retention of urine and faeces. The beaurocracy and associated costs severely limit the tissues that can be collected from the living for research purposes.

Whilst keeping consent central, the Act should be rationalised to remove the requirement for tissue tracking from living patients, Consent forms should be replaced by a national "Treatment Request" forms which have a standard clause allowing patients to agree to the use of tissues surplus to diagnosic requirements in medical research.

Why does this matter?

The Human Tissue Act 2004 is idiosyncratic reactive legislation which has engendered a large and expensive beauocracy and severely reduced the availiability of tissue available for medical research, at the same time increasing the relative expense for collection. The Human Tissue Authority costs over £4 million a year of tax payers money to run and has generated over 1000 pages of guidence about its regulatory function. The estimated front-line costs to each major hospital in the UK is £100,000 per year, enough for an extra 15 major operations per hospital. This does not account for the enormous amount of NHS man-hours spent in tracking, tracing and auditing tissues (including urine and faeces). The apprehension caused by the complexity of the Act and the tough stance of the Authority ,dissuades many clinicians from assisting in vital tissue collection for reseach. The extensive auditing/tracking requirements of the Act substantially increase the costs of tissue collection and therefore vital medical research. 

Simple reforms to the Act and a national "Treatment Request" form with a standard clause agreeing to use of tissue for audit, teaching and research would save money and improve tissue availability.

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