MRC Position Statements

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MRC position statement on radioisotope use in 1950s and 1960s studies

Public and patient involvement, ethical practice and trust is critical to the work of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the whole medical research community. That includes both public and patient involvement in our research but also transparency, accountability and public challenge to what we do and how we do it.

The issue of radioisotopes (radioactive tracers) within studies funded by MRC in the 1950s and 1960s was raised by a Channel 4 television documentary in 1995. Following its broadcast, an independent inquiry was established to address the important questions it raised.

These studies, and the documentary, have recently been the subject of renewed discussion. We understand this has reraised concerns about how the study in Coventry was conducted, what was learned from the subsequent independent inquiry, what actions were taken and how these issues are considered today.

It is now clear we did not fully address community concerns regarding the participating women and their families following the conclusion of the independent inquiry in 1998. We would like to apologise unreservedly for that failure.

As an organisation, MRC is committed to putting that right by listening to the concerns, responding to the issues and working to ensure outstanding questions can be answered where possible. We are meeting with Taiwo Owatemi MP and talking to relevant organisations in the Coventry area to initiate this work and develop the actions we will take to make it happen.

It is also important to note that work by MRC, and across the sector, has and continues to strengthen approaches to public and patient involvement, ethics and regulation over the 25 years since the report was published.

MRC remains committed to the highest standards of integrity in the way individuals are involved in research and in the way research areas are identified, including a commitment to engagement, openness and transparency.

Background

The inquiry, chaired by Rabbi Julia Neuberger, then Chief Executive of the King’s Fund, London, published its report in May 1998 (and it has remained publicly available via the British Library website). The report did recognise that research practice, ethics and regulation had moved on significantly since the studies were originally undertaken and made a series of recommendations. The inquiry directly resulted in new guidance and additional improvements have been made since then.

This statement was updated 4 September 2023.

Last updated: 9 November 2023

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