‘Embarrassing’ stocks of blood products available in the UK were not used by doctors in Newcastle, infected blood inquiry finds
A former chief medical officer at Newcastle Blood Center said in 1983 there were ’embarrassing’ stocks of NHS blood factor concentrates to treat haemophiliacs, but the director of the RVI Haemophilia Center preferred to use products commercially produced.
In a letter from Dr Anne Collins, then director of the Northern Regional Blood Transfusion Service (NRBTS), she asked the director of the Haemophilia Center, Dr Peter Jones, to use British products rather than import , saying, “We have an embarrassing amount of BPL Factor VIII in stock. What do you think ?”
Thousands of hemophiliacs who relied on the products received Factor VIII contaminated with deadly viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C – more than 2,400 have died and the number continues to rise.
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NHS patients have also received transfusions of contaminated blood.
As early as 1975, figures such as Lord Owen – then Health Secretary – had set targets to achieve “self-sufficiency” in the UK’s blood supply to reduce the risk of virus transmission to patients.
However, throughout the 1980s, imported commercial products were still used.
Giving evidence to the inquest into the infected blood, Dr Collins’ successor, Dr Huw Lloyd, told the inquest’s chairman, Sir Brian Langstaff, that he did not know directly why Dr Jones preferred to use products commercial.
However, he said: “The commercial factor VIII was more easily soluble. In other words, you could put the distilled water in the vial and dissolve it much faster than you would with the [UK] GLP product. So I actually experienced that.
“It is the case that [UK] product, the GLP product, was less easy to use. It was not presented, if you will, in a nice package. It didn’t go with everything together.”
Dr. Lloyd held this position from 1988 to 1995.
In a statement drafted by Dr Collins for legal action in 1990 – and shown at the inquest – she wrote: “‘It became apparent that there was a preference at the Hemophilia Center for the blood product of commercially produced factor VIII for the following reasons…”
There would not have been enough factor VIII produced in the UK to meet the demand for the product, according to documents presented at the inquest – and Dr Lloyd agreed with that.
Dr Collins, heard by the inquest, listed “the solubility, allergic reactions and more attractive presentation of commercial factor VIII”.
In a previous written submission to the Inquiry, Dr Jones stressed: ‘Any blood product, whether from voluntary sources or paid donors in the UK or overseas, carried a risk of viral transmission.’
Dr Lloyd also explained how, when he first started working at NRBTS, the conditions were “Dickensian”.
Dr Lloyd also told the inquest how he thought doctors could have done more to test blood products for hepatitis C later in the decade, and explained how processes needed to be changed by the end of the decade. 1980 to ensure that blood was not taken from “inappropriate donors”. “.
The NRBTS moved into a new purpose-built building in 1985, but before that Dr Lloyd said: “Even then it was a very old-fashioned setup – a little cobbled together with those sheds and shacks and the sub- The lab equipment was generally old, and the lab benches…
“By today’s standards, one would be horrified by the wooden benches and people brewing tea in a lab, which I remember.
“It was pretty dated, even by 1980s standards.”
Dr Lloyd said the clerks would sit on “high stools on wooden benches with big big books” and it “gave you that Dickensian desk feeling”.
Around 1983, during his training, Dr. Lloyd also spent time in the hematology department at Freeman Hospital. At that time he was involved in the investigation of “clinical problems resulting from transfusions”.
He said: We have seen serious things. I don’t remember anything related to no-A, no-B, for example, but I don’t think people were looking for it as hard as they could.
Speaking about attitudes towards hepatitis C during the 1980s and how his own knowledge grew, Dr Lloyd said he believed doctors should have done ‘ALT’ blood tests to screen for the virus, which was then known as non-A, non-Hepatitis B. He added: “Was I standing up there screaming from the rooftops, saying we should do this? No, I don’t I wasn’t and I probably should have done more.
“But it took the UK to seem to have this attitude that it wasn’t a serious disease, and we didn’t need to do much about it.”
As medical director of the NRBTS, Dr Lloyd said he had made changes that meant blood donors were screened before donation, rather than having their blood screened afterwards.
He said: “It highlights an issue that we later tried to address, which was that we were getting donations from people whose donations we weren’t sure were going to be fully utilized.
“We felt later – when we got to this issue – that we tried to change that cycle and say we shouldn’t accept a gift from someone unless we’re sure their gift is usable. .”
Dr Lloyd – speaking via video link from Canada where he currently lives – will continue to give evidence until Thursday February 10.
The Infected Blood Inquiry, which began in 2018, will continue to hear testimony from doctors who worked in the field of blood transfusion and blood products in February and March – with further hearings continuing until ‘in 2022.
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