Organ retention helpline receives more than 60 calls a day

MORE than 60 calls a day were logged by a national helpline set up to deal with concerns about the organ retention controversy in its first week of operation.

A total of 318 requests were received up to last Friday from people seeking information about procedures for establishing whether their deceased loved ones’ organs had been removed without authorisation.

Most of the calls related to the recent revelations about the removal of pituitary glands and their subsequent sale or supply to pharmaceutical firms for use in the manufacture of human growth hormone.

Just over half the calls concerned patients who died at hospitals in the Dublin region where most of the country’s specialist hospitals and the only dedicated paediatric hospitals are based.

But queries were received relating to all 10 health board areas and staff manning the helpline have begun the task of passing on requests to each of the individual hospitals concerned.

The helpline, which operates on the freephone number 1800 454500, is open again this week during office hours.

A spokeswoman for the Eastern Regional Health Authority, which is running it on behalf of the Department of Health, said yesterday it would remain in operation as long as demand dictated.

The helpline was set up to simplify the process for concerned relatives but most of the health boards and hospitals involved are also taking telephone queries directly and will continue to do so indefinitely.

Relatives group Parents for Justice met yesterday to decide on the next step in their campaign to make public the names of all the hospitals, health authorities and drugs companies involved in the sale or supply of pituitary glands.

Since fresh information came to light about the practice three weeks ago, more than 20 hospitals have confirmed that they had such arrangements with pharmaceutical firms in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Novo Nordisk, one of just two pharmaceutical firms that have confirmed their involvement, said it was supplied with the glands of 7,500 deceased patients from 32 Irish hospitals and there are believed to be at least six firms involved.

Parents for Justice threatened a “name and shame” campaign if the hospitals and firms did not voluntarily admit their involvement and the group is expected to set a deadline for disclosure in the coming days.

Meanwhile, a number of hospitals in Scotland have revealed that were also involved in the supply of pituitary glands to Novo Nordisk, leading to concerns that public inquiries held there and throughout Britain into the organ retention controversy may have to be reopened to deal with the new information.

The Dunne Inquiry which is investigating the same issues here, has also been under way since 2000 but is not yet finished its work.

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