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MoU signed covering access to Guthrie cards

MoU signed covering access to Guthrie cards

The Ministry of Health and the Police today announced the joint signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which regulates requests from the Police for access to the country's historical store of blood spots or 'Guthrie cards'.

Collection of blood spots via heel pricks from newborns was introduced as a national service in the 1960s for the purpose of identifying specific metabolic conditions, such as congenital hypothyroidism and cystic fibrosis. Heel prick tests continue to be used today with the testing, reporting and treatment for metabolic conditions, screening over 56,000 newborns each year.

The MoU between the Police and the Ministry clarifies the circumstances in which requests for access to the cards may be granted and the process for doing so.

National Screening Unit Group Manager Karen Mitchell described the MoU as recognition that the blood spot card and information associated with it is collected for health purposes only and any use of the card for non-health related purposes is exceptional.

"The Guthrie cards, as part of the Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme, are a valuable means of identifying rare, metabolic conditions. That's what the blood spots are collected for and it's important that we reflected that in this MoU."

"However, it's also important to acknowledge that there will be requests from the Police from time to time for access to the cards for other legitimate purposes."

The Police may request access to a specified card, for example where a body is found and all other avenues for identifying the person have failed, or where biological material is available and requires a match to identify a specific person who is deceased or missing.

Police spokesperson Inspector John Walker said that the MoU formalised current practise.

"The MoU formalises what has largely been current practise for the Police in terms of the circumstances for requesting access to the cards. It provides us with clear guidelines and processes for doing so," he said.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Acting Police Commissioner Steve Long and Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi.

The MoU is seen as one step covering access to the cards. The Ministry is working on further policy, in relation to the on-going storage, retention and use of the cards, which may lead to future legislation.

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