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SFIU and Organ Retention

Freedom of information: SFIU and Organ Retention

25 September 2013

Thank you for your e-mail of 18 August 2013 in which you requested the following information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA):

1. Details of an audit commissioned by the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit into retention of organ cases. Please include when the audit was commissioned, who was commissioned (sic), how much it cost and how long it lasted.

2. Details of the findings of the audit - please include all findings and recommendations and any other information generated by the audit. The parts concerned in each instance.

I am sorry that we were unable to respond within the statutory period set out in FOISA.

As you are aware from previous correspondence, an audit was carried out by the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU) in relation to the retention of organs for the purpose of the investigation and prosecution of crime or for the purpose of the investigation of sudden, suspicious or unexplained deaths in concluded cases. The SFIU was established in September 2010 to ensure that the highest possible standards are followed in the investigation of deaths. Part of the role of SFIU is to ensure that consistent best practice and uniform processes are followed by specialist deaths investigators across the country. Since their inception, SFIU has therefore been seeking to improve and standardise practices relating to the investigation of deaths both within COPFS and in connection with our work with criminal justice stakeholders.

As part of its work, the SFIU therefore considered best practice across all areas of deaths investigation and across all geographical areas served by COPFS. Part of this process involved ensuring that procedures relating to the investigation of death, including organ retention, were consistent and of the highest standard.

In September 2012, the SFIU focussed on issues related to organ retention led by the Head of the SFIU. Following consultation and consideration and reconciliation of available records, the audit concluded in April 2013. The audit was a continuation of on-going work conducted by the SFIU to continuously improve standards and procedures related to the investigation of deaths.

I can confirm that COPFS does not hold information about how much the audit cost and, therefore, in terms of section 17 of FOISA, that information is not held by COPFS.

In terms of part 2 of your request, I can confirm that SFIU asked mortuaries to check that organs were only being retained where necessary to an ongoing death investigation, in line with agreed procedures. It emerged that in a small number of concluded cases, organs were retained after post mortem. That highlighted that in five deaths, families were either not advised of the retention or it was unclear from COPFS records whether the families had been advised but had not made their wishes known.

As part of the audit, the procedures for the retention of organs was reviewed and it was noted that improvements in procedure, including in relation to the responsibility for provision of information to bereaved nearest relatives and the review of administrative processes in this regard had already been implemented to avoid a reoccurrence.

I have given careful consideration to the remaining information held falling within the terms of the second part of your request. Although we do try to provide information where possible, in this case exemptions under FOISA applies to the information requested.