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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
'Advisors ignored blood HIV risk'
By Susan Watts and Mags Gavan
BBC Newsnight

Blood bag
Blood supplies were contaminated
More evidence suggests UK health advisors ignored warnings which could have prevented haemophilia patients being given contaminated blood.

The Guardian newspaper points to minutes of a Committee on Safety of Medicines meeting held on July 13 1983.

The minutes document that the CSM knew patients who repeatedly receive blood products appeared to be at risk, but ruled against a ban.

In April, BBC's Newsnight programme reported similar evidence from 1983.

Newsnight obtained a letter from the head of Britain's public health surveillance centre warning the Department of Health about the risk of Aids from the blood clotting product Factor 8, after Britain's first case in Cardiff, and calling for all US imports to be banned.

Background

In the 1970s and 1980s, 4,500 UK haemophilia patients were exposed to lethal viruses in blood products.

Two thousand have since died of either Hepatitis C or HIV.

It is generally accepted that many people with haemophilia became infected from supplies of the clotting agent Factor 8 from abroad.

Unbeknown to them at the time, much of the plasma used to make Factor 8 came from donors like prison inmates in the US.

These prisoners were allowed to sell their blood even though there were questions over their health.

Evidence

Successive governments have said politicians, civil servants and doctors simply did not know enough about the dangers of Factor 8 concentrates to stop using them in time.

But the CSM minutes obtained by The Guardian reveal: "The possibility was considered of withdrawing US preparations from the UK.

"It was concluded that it is not at present feasible on grounds of supply.

"Moreover, the perceived level of risk does not at present justify serious consideration of such a solution."

Dr Joseph Smith (now Sir Joseph), who had chaired the CSM meeting in 1983, said it was a "great tragedy" that people contracted blood-borne diseases from contaminated materials but said the committee's conclusions were based on the best available evidence at the time.

A spokesman for the Department of Health added: "We have great sympathy for those who were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV and understand why they want to know how it happened and why it could not have been prevented.

"However, the government of the day acted in good faith, relying on the information available at the time.

"We have been open and transparent on this issue, ensuring that as much relevant information is in the public domain as possible, with numerous documents having been released under the Freedom of Information Act."

A private inquiry, organised by families affected by HIV-contaminated blood, is ongoing.




SEE ALSO
Inquiry into contaminated blood
19 Feb 07 |  Health
'All we want is truth and justice'
14 Jan 06 |  Scotland
Hepatitis C
25 Oct 05 |  Medical notes

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