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Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): May I, too, thank the Secretary of State for his statement, his courtesy in allowing us to see it in advance and the open way in which he has dealt with the matter by coming to the House only a short time after learning of the situation? I also associate myself with the condolences that have been expressed throughout the Chamber to the families involved.
Will the Secretary of State say a little more about the time line behind the diagnosis? Given that the donation of blood occurred in 1996 and the death of the donor occurred in 1999, what steps were taken to trace those who had received blood from the donor, and how many of the 15 people to whom the Secretary of State referred received blood from that donor?
The company Life Resources Incorporated was purchased in 2002. Can the Secretary of State tell us what assessment was made before and since the purchase of the risk to US supplies from the sources from which it acquires its blood? Concerns have been raised about indications that drug addicts and prisoners in the US could be used as potential sources of blood, so I should be grateful if he would indicate what assessment of that has been made.
Can the Secretary of State clear up a little confusion that I have as a result of reading both his statement and material from the National Blood Service? I understand that the first consignments of fresh frozen plasma from the United States are due to arrive in the UK in January 2004 and that components of it will be issued from the spring. When will all children born on or after 1 January 1996 have access to US-sourced plasma? Do they have such access now and, if they do not, when will they have it?
Haemophiliacs have been mentioned. When will they have access to recombinant factor 8? Reference has been made to the need to manage better and use more wisely the blood that people donate? What steps are the Government taking to allow people to store their own blood as one way of managing the use of, and demand for, blood?
Dr. Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about my bringing the matter to the House. There is always a fine balance between, on one hand, bringing a matter to the House and thus raising the status of the announcement that one is making and, on the other hand, retaining information that should be legitimately available to the House and the public. Although there was one single incident on this occasion, I decided that provided that the reports were accurately reflected and not over-dramatised, it would be a better path to bring the matter to the House as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether only one person had received blood from the donor. The best information that I have suggests that one other person received blood, although hon. Members will understand that we do not have every single fact and figure. He asked about the length of time that has passed since we knew about the 15 recipients. We have known about that for a considerable timeI do not necessarily mean my Department when I say, "we". The names have been known for a considerable time, but in the absence of evidence during that time, such as that which we have today, the decision was taken that on balance, it would be more beneficial to the patients who received the blood to carry out a full assessment of the risk. That process has been ongoing for some two years, during which expert panels have investigated the matteralthough the hon. Gentleman will realise that such an assessment was pretty difficult. It was decided that it was better to do that rather than causing distress in the face of any evidence, but that situation has changed because of today's statement.
Consequently, action on risk assessment and risk communication, which is a complex matter, was already proceeding. Several expert committees were involved, but the risk assessment for individual patients who might have received plasma is not yet completed. I was told during briefings in the past two days that the UK-wide CJD incidents panel met in October this year and received a report showing that the complex risk calculations for blood and plasma products were nearing completion. The panel recommended at the meeting that following the completion of the process, a package of action should be designed with the Health Protection Agency to communicate the level of risk faced by individual patients to the patients themselves. Today's action initiates the first steps in that process, because we cannot reasonably wait any longer.
I do not want to deceive the hon. Gentleman by implying that we have only just found out the names of those 15 people; the names were known but the risk assessment was such that it was decided, until we received this evidence, to make a far more complex assessment rather than cause them undue distress in the absence of that work. As I said, had those people been contacted earlier they would have been given a degree of reassurance that we should now have had to qualifyperhaps causing them more distress.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the sources of US blood supplies. We are satisfied about the blood supplies that we receive. My understanding is that a fair percentage of the blood comes not from the sources that he mentioned but from native Americans, for instance, and others to whom some of the points that he made would not apply. The American company, Life Resources Incorporated, which we have acquired, requires vigorous tests for assessing the blood products that it supplies us. Other appropriate quality assurance procedures are in place, as hon. Members would expect. As soon as the products become available in the new year, children will receive them.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but perhaps he could write to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). I am obliged to call Back Benchers, as a statement must include them. Front-Bench speakers have taken 40 minutes, which is unfair to Back Benchers.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) (Lab): Although I realise that we have had a long session of questions from the Front Benches, I am sure that everyone has noted the value of the questions. May I, too, express my appreciation to the Secretary of State for coming to the House with a thorough and detailed statement? I appreciate the precautions that are being taken in this difficult situation.
May I raise two wider points that were not touched on in the previous questions? First, my right hon. Friend will recall that not long ago there was publicity about the case of a vCJD sufferer who, according to the media, showed some response to a particular form of treatment. What is the Government's position on treatability? As my right hon. Friend knows, the issue is of concern to many people.
Secondly, may I press my right hon. Friend about the care packages available for people facing the problems of vCJD and their family carers? He will be aware of the concerns expressed by people close to some of the sufferers and their families that it has taken a considerable time to put the packages together, which has caused difficulties for patients and their families. Will he address that point? Is he satisfied that when a person is diagnosed every effort is made to ensure that a proper care package is put together as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend asked about possible treatments. He will know that the Department of Health agreed in principle to fund the trial of Quinacrine for the treatment of CJD. The trial will be undertaken through the Medical Research Council and is expected to commence in early 2004. A small number of patients with clinical symptoms were treated prior to the establishment of the clinical trial. We continue to seek out appropriate treatment wherever we can, but at present I cannot say that diagnosis or treatment are available on anything that we could describe as an effective scale.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): The Secretary of State referred to the fact that some successful operations have been carried out. Recently, an 18-year-old girl in my constituency successfully underwent such an operationby the intraventricular installation of Pentosan polysulphate. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the trials; the operation was carried out the day after that decision was made. However, despite the fact that the operation was sanctioned by the local hospital and primary care trusts, surgeons in the hospital refused to permit use of the necessary sterotactic frame equipment due to their concerns about contamination, so the equipment had to be purchased from Sweden at the eleventh hour at a cost of about £38,000. Although the operation was carried out by the national health service, the NHS executive has so far declined to sanction payment for the equipment from NHS funds.
I am sorry to spring that matter on the Secretary of State on this occasion, but I hope that he will understand my concern and the concern of the patient's parentsI was about to write to him about the case. I hope that I have been positive in showing that treatment is available and we celebrate the fact that the girl is alive and improving, but I hope that he will recognise the need to look into the matter in respect of the cost of the equipment.