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The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"It was the start of a medical nightmare"
 real 56k

Monday, 26 March, 2001, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Hepatitis ruling to cost NHS millions
People were infected with Hepatitis C through contaminated blood
People were infected with Hepatitis C through contaminated blood
The health service faces a bill of at least 7m after a ruling that patients infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood should be compensated.

Individuals in six test cases will receive between 10,000 and more than 210,000, a High Court judge has ruled.

They may also be eligible for further compensation if they become ill again.

Mr Justice Burton ruled that, in all, 114 claimants were entitled to compensation.


All of these claimants have suffered in one way or another the stigma of being Hepatitis C sufferers

Michael Brooke QC
They were infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which affects the liver, after receiving blood transfusions or blood products.

Those affected include young children infected while being treated for leukaemia and mothers who received blood transfusions or blood products immediately after childbirth.

Others were infected during blood transfusions or through blood products received during surgery, or while being treated for a blood disorder.

The judge will consider whether to grant the defendants leave to appeal on April 10.

If he does grant permission, payouts will be delayed until the outcome of the appeal was known.

Cases

The six "lead" cases highlighted the judge were:

  • A woman in her mid-50s infected by a blood transfusion during routine surgery. Medication failed and she developed active liver disease (cirrhosis). She has since undergone a liver transplant.

    Her total payout, including compensation for financial losses while she has been ill, was more than 210,000.

  • A man in his early 70s was infected through a blood transfusion given after heart surgery. A course of medication failed and he now has cirrhosis.

    He was awarded a total of more than 53,000

  • A woman, now in her late teens was infected when she was nine through a unit of plasma given to her as part of treatment for a serious liver condition. Her first course of treatment failed, but she has yet to suffer active liver disease.

    She was awarded a total of 37,000.

  • A mother in her mid-thirties who was infected via a blood transfusion given after childbirth.

    She has suffered lethargy and a serious psychiatric reaction, but she has refused treatment because she was worried it would make her too tired to look after her children.

    She was awarded a total of 26,000.

  • A man infected when he was nine through a blood transfusions after an road accident. His infection cleared spontaneously, but he had a severe psychiatric reaction to his diagnosis.

    He was awarded a total of more than 10,000, with the assurance of more if he becomes ill again.

  • A 23-year-old also infected in a blood transfusion after an accident.

    One course of medication was successful, but he relapsed. A second course was successful. He too was awarded 10,000, with the possibility of further payouts if necessary.

    Claims

    A spokesman for the Haemophilia Society told BBC News Online that although no haemophiliacs were involved in this case, the judgement offered a "morale boost" to those infected with Hepatitis C.

    "It's a very important moral argument to the government to answer our calls to help people who have been infected with Hepatitis C."


    It's a very important moral argument to the government to answer our calls to help people who have been infected with Hepatitis C

    Haemophilia Society spokesman
    Lawyers for the claimants hailed the judgement as a "landmark decision".

    It is the first multi-party action to go to court under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

    Anthony Mallen, of Deas Mallen solicitors, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, praised the act and the EU directive on which it is based for strengthening consumer laws.

    "Producers are not liable for risks which are genuinely unknown to exist, but as soon as the possibly dangerous nature of the product has been discovered by someone somewhere, they will be liable if they continue to supply dangerous products.

    The claims were brought against the National Blood Authority, in England and the Velindre NHS Trust in Wales who contested the action.

    The organisations who will be affected by the ruling are the NHS bodies today answerable for the production and supply of blood and blood products by the National Blood Transfusion Service since March 1, 1988.

    During the case, Michael Brooke QC, for the defendants, said: "All of these claimants have suffered in one way or another the stigma of being Hepatitis C sufferers.

    "The public is often confused about HCV and wrongly believes that it is similar to HIV infection."

    The case is important because it sets an important precedent by establishing a legal link between medical liability and consumer rights.

    A second case, involving nine claimants including haemophiliacs and a woman infected during a heart transplant, will have a preliminary hearing in May.

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    30 Mar 00 | G-I
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