Advice line - Skeletons in the cupboard

Helen Bristow, one of the CSP’s professional advisers, reports on an issue that members have raised recently

Like the proverbial buses after a long wait, queries to the CSP Professional Advice Service often come along in threes. A spate of enquiries recently led us to contact the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) for answers.

Many members will have a whole skeleton, spine or articulated limb, or limbs, in their practice for patient education and demonstration purposes.

Others may still have a box of bones in the paraphernalia from their student days. But things have changed since those days.

  • Can they just throw them away?
  • Donate them to a local school for biology lessons?
  • Or display them in their physio clinic?

The Human Tissue Act 2004 applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It established the Human Tissue Authority to regulate activities concerning the removal, storage, use and disposal of human tissue. The equivalent legislation in Scotland is the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006.

Under the Human Tissue Act you have to have an HTA licence for certain purposes. However, holding a private collection of human tissue does not require a licence.

The HTA recommends that if an owner wishes to dispose of a private collection of bones, he or she offers them to an educational establishment (such as an anatomy school) that is licensed by the HTA.

If this is not an option, and the bones need to be disposed of, the owner should contact a licensed establishment to see if it can dispose of them on the person’s behalf. Details can be found on the HTA website (address below).

The HTA considers that if the body of a person, or relevant material which has come from the body of a person, is seen by members of the public as a public display, a licence may be required.

For more details see the HTA website.

Where the bones are more than 100 years old, an HTA licence is not normally required to display them. But if you cannot prove their age, a licence is needed. The act does not apply to relevant material that was stored before it became law on 1 September 2006.

Where a licence may be required, it is necessary to determine what is meant by ‘demonstration’.

Would the skeleton be used for public display, or be for education or training relating to human health (that is, for students or professionals)?

The requirements will differ accordingly and further general relevant advice is available from the HTA’s website.

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Helen Bristow

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