An investigation into the removal and retention of dead children's organs in Northern Ireland has been ordered by health minister Bairbre de Brun, following the revelation that over 350 organs had been kept by Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

The hospital released details of the scale of organ retention following media interest prompted by the recent national summit on organ removal and retention called by chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson.

It admitted that 361 organs had been retained for detailed examination since 1944, from a total of 5,000 post-mortems carried out on babies who had died or were stillborn. Following the revelations, the hospital invited any parents who had concerns to contact the hospital and was inundated with hundreds of callers.

Most families have been told their children had not been involved, and in those cases where organs were retained they have been given the option of having them returned for burial.

The decision on what to do with any remaining organs will follow the recommendations of the Alder Hey inquiry, due out by the end of the month. Since 1995, all organs retained by the Royal Victoria Hospital for examination have been cremated.