Introducing our sector-focused stakeholder forums

  • Post mortem

On 6 February we held our first sector-focused stakeholder forum, and I was delighted to welcome leaders from the Post Mortem sector. The new forum represents a change in approach to our stakeholder groups, and our plan is to have a forum for each of the sectors we regulate.

I hope that the forums will help us identify and consider current or anticipated regulatory issues and identify possible solutions by working with stakeholders. The forums will help us, and sector representatives gain a broader perspective on horizon scanning to identify potential changes and developments in the sector which might affect the HTA’s regulation. In addition, we will continue our programme of round tables to help us focus on individual issues in more depth.

The event was an excellent opportunity to hear about challenges and insights from the sector, as well as providing a space to discuss regulation. As this was the first one, we took the opportunity to review the purpose and terms of reference for the forum, which reflect our strategy to maintain and strengthen relationships with colleagues in the sectors we regulate, and to make sure we are listening to their experiences.

Our Post Mortem guidance was updated in Autumn 2022, following engagement with key stakeholders across the sector. It was helpful to have valuable feedback so that we could ensure the guidance was achieving what we need it to. One of our guiding principles is the vital importance of maintaining the dignity of the deceased. It is a significant factor in how our standards and guidance should be applied. We updated sections of the guidance to reinforce the importance of establishments considering all risks to the dignity of the deceased. 

We completed a thorough internal review of the wording of, and guidance associated with, 7 specific licensing standards. These standards are broadly concerned with effective control and monitoring of access and storage arrangements.

We also discussed the data around HTARIs (HTA reportable incidents) that we’ve received this year. We have had 160 reported to us, and we remain concerned about the levels of incidents as they cause distress to families and can impact on public confidence. The categories we are particularly focused on are accidental damage to a body, and release of the wrong body. It’s a priority for HTA to understand and prevent further incidents. We agreed a further conversation including a deep dive into the causes of these incidents would be helpful.

We also looked at mortuary capacity. Colleagues shared their experiences of capacity pressures across the country, particularly around the Christmas and New Year period. In early January, we issued a regulatory update to professionals working in PM which covered capacity and emergency licences. Colleagues agreed that cross-system working with stakeholders including the NHS and funeral directors would be an important step in tackling capacity pressures.

I really valued the insight and feedback that Post Mortem colleagues shared with us. I believe by working together we can achieve the safe and trusted use of human tissue.  Thanks to all who participated. I’m looking forward to the remaining forums we will be running this quarter and meeting up again with Post Mortem colleagues in the autumn to proactively discuss progress and plans for potential winter pressures in 2023/24.

Dr Colin Sullivan, Chief Executive, HTA

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