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Communication and consent on human tissue use

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I recently started working as a pathology liaison nurse and am based in the new Human Tissue Resource Centre at St Bartholomew's Hospital in central London.

The centre is a joint initiative of the Barts and The London NHS Trust and Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry. It has been set up as a centralised Research Tissue Bank, in response to the Human Tissue Act 2004, which was implemented on 1 September 2006.

The centre is managed by a team of senior hospital staff and its primary role is to oversee and monitor the collection, storage and use of tissue for research purposes.

Consent is the fundamental principle of the Human Tissue Act, with regard to the use of human tissue and organs. My role has mainly involved revising the patient consent process for the donation of tissue for research (for the living and not the deceased).

In order to comply with the Act, and the Human Tissue Authority's Code of Practice on Consent, we have made minor amendments to the National Consent Forms for Investigation or Treatment (Forms 1, 2 and 3).

These forms will now include a separate section on research, which asks patients to agree to, or to refuse, the use of their surplus tissue for research. This is tissue which is taken for diagnostic purposes and any surplus would normally be disposed of. Patients also have the opportunity to list any exclusions or preferences for the use of their tissue.

A tissue use information leaflet has been produced which explains to patients how and why tissue is collected and used for research. The leaflet is to be used in conjunction with the consent forms. It will be given to all patients admitted for a surgical procedure or treatment, either in the pre-admission clinics or on the wards. Patients will be asked to read it prior to consent being taken and they will be given the opportunity to ask questions.

The leaflet will also be available in four other languages (Bengali, Chinese, Turkish and Somali) to reflect the trust's ethnically diverse community.

The amended forms and the new information leaflet have been fully approved by the relevant trust committees. I am now involved in implementing these changes and providing training to medical and nursing staff, to ensure that they are prepared when the new consent forms and information leaflets are circulated.

Working out how best to communicate this information effectively within a large NHS trust is quite a challenge.

I have developed training packs and presentations, which are adapted according to the role and needs of each department. I ensure that I attend staff meetings and departmental training sessions to speak to as many people as possible and to answer their questions.

I have also been grateful for the assistance and advice from various trust departments and individuals, such as the legal department, risk management, communications and healthcare governance.

Information about consent for research and the Human Tissue Act has been placed onto our website, which is accessible by both staff and the public.

It is hoped that by collecting generic consent for research, we are ensuring that a wide variety of tissues can be collected, stored and used for future research projects. This will increase the research possibilities and potential within the trust/school and will help to raise their profile with regard to research.

We have recognised that the new consent process may slightly increase the workload for some departments and staff, but in the long-term, their work will benefit the trust/school and, in turn, the research that can be conducted will benefit the patients.

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