Suing the NHS

Relatives of infected blood victims consider Suing the NHS

The NHS is bracing itself for a fresh round of litigation after a report condemned the use of 'skid row' blood bought from America in the 1970's and 1980's. The NHS bought imported blood products from American suppliers who paid donors for blood. As a consequence, much of the blood was from prisoners and drug addicts and carried deadly diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV.

The policy of using imported blood resolved in 4,670 becoming infected with Hepatitis C with a quarter of those also contracting the HIV virus as well. Of the initial recipients, 1,757 have since died.

The companies that processed the blood also made a profit, and the inquiryaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell said that 'it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that commercial interests took precedence over public health concerns'. The inquiry board also recommended that those affected and their partners should receive compensation comparable to that issued in Ireland (thought to have been around 400,000 Euros), free prescriptions, counseling, physiotherapy and home nursing. The inquiry took two years and examined 20,000 documents and took evidence from 3,000 witnesses.

Most of the victims suffering from haemophilia, a condition in which sufferers lack a blood-clotting protein and require regular blood transfusions. The Haemophilia Society has said that levels of compensation payments for victims of infected blood transfusions are inappropriate and that the risks continue, despite stringent screening methods being put in place since 1985. The thought is that the results of the inquiry has given the green light for victims and their families to pursue medical negligence claims against the health authorities that provided contaminated blood.

Medical negligence claims are notoriously difficult to pursue and require the expertise of experienced solicitors. In this case there is a good chance that the case may be pursued as a group claim, giving the case more impetus. The publicity surrounding the case is certainly growing, and all parties are watching developments very closely, particularly as it has recently emerged that a patient treated with a clotting agent from an infected donor has developed a variant CJD as a result of a transfusion.

Professor Marc Turner, scientific director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, has called for samples from variant CJD patients to be released so that a test being developed by the company Amorfix to diagnose the disease before death could be perfected. Professor Turner claims that the blood test could have been used to screen Britain's blood supply within 18 months, preventing future recipients of the clotting agent from being exposed to infected blood.

The NHS have put in strict measures to prevent infected blood being used for transfusions and since April 2004 blood donors have not been accepted from people who have themselves received a blood transfusion in the UK since 1980. For the last three years blood donors have not been accepted from people who had previously donated blood where a recipient has gone on to develop vCJD, in case the source of the recipient's infection had been the donated blood. However, these measures came too late for those exposed to infected blood during the 1970's and '80's, who now face a battle for compensation. The report should go some way to making the claim an easier one, but the income remains to be seen.