HC 1048-III Health CommitteeWritten evidence from the Haemophilia Society (PH 105)

Summary

Human blood and blood products are an indispensible medical treatment but they can also facilitate the spread of disease. This submission highlights the ongoing importance of blood product safety to public health.

Blood and blood products are an efficient vector for new pathogens, making swift expert advice indispensible.

If the Health Protection Agency is abolished, adequate provision must be made for its functions in relation to blood product safety to be carried out by a national body capable of working with international partners.

Introduction

1. In late seventies and early eighties, almost five thousand people with haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C and/or HIV through blood products. In several cases, recipients of blood products, which were often imported from the USA, unwittingly infected sexual partners, constituting a wider public health concern. Many lessons were learned as a result of this tragedy, and we are concerned that the abolition of the Health Protection Agency would be a step backwards.

The Proposed Abolition of the Health Protection Agency

2. Both the Public Health Agency and the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs perform important roles, bringing together expertise to identify and assess potential threats to the blood supply. In recent years, they have debated important matters such as the transmissibility of the vCJD prion through blood products.

3. The Health and Social Care Bill proposes considerable decentralisation, which raises concerns about whether sufficient resources will be maintained at a national level to monitor new and emerging threats to public health.

4. There is an on-going need for vigilance regarding the safety of blood products. Parvovirus is resistant to current heat deactivation techniques. Its small size means that it cannot be removed using nano filtration, and it is not an envelope virus so it cannot be deactivated using a detergent wash. A more pathogenic virus with these attributes could emerge and present a significant public health risk.

5. The controversy surrounding the recently identified blood-borne virus XMRV illustrates the public concern about the pathogenic potential of threats to blood safety. When new blood-borne pathogens are discovered, they can become controversial very quickly. Patients need a respected UK authority to provide trusted oversight and information.

6. It would be most unwise to abolish the Health Protection Agency without making adequate provision for its surveillance role to be covered by a national body capable of working with international partners.

Conclusion

7. Blood products can allow viruses and diseases to jump from one community to another. The pooling of blood donations facilitates the rapid spread of disease since the health of thousands of individuals can be jeopardised by a single infected donation. The virus can then spread to the communities of blood product recipients.

8. Despite impressive advances in recent years, blood and blood products will always be vectors for emerging health threats. The Health Protection Agency carries out important responsibilities in relation to blood products that must be retained centrally. If the Government intends to proceed with the abolition of the HPA, it must consider how these functions will be fulfilled.

We would like to thank the members of the Committee for taking this submission into account in their deliberations.

June 2011

Prepared 28th November 2011