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Contaminated blood scandal: Doctors were aware of risks of hep C and HIV to haemophiliacs during 1970s and 1980s, inquiry hears

PUBLISHED: 12:14 30 September 2020

Campaigners in ties and ribbons, outside Church House, Westminster, as  the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry are set to begin. Picture: Polly Hancock

Campaigners in ties and ribbons, outside Church House, Westminster, as the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry are set to begin. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Doctors were warned of the risk of infection from blood products as early as the 1940s, while haemophilia centres were told in 1983 of concerns about the risk of Aids from blood factor products.

Jenni Richards QC, counsel to the Infected Blood Inquiry. Picture: Infected Blood InquiryJenni Richards QC, counsel to the Infected Blood Inquiry. Picture: Infected Blood Inquiry

This is according to documents presented by Jenni Richards QC, counsel to the Infected Blood Inquiry, which highlight the “knowledge of risk” possessed by doctors in the 1970s and 1980s.

The late Dr Peter Kernoff, who ran the Royal Free’s Haemophilia unit in the early 1980s, wrote to Dr Brian Colvin – another senior haemophilia doctor in London – saying there were “both clinical and moral reasons” for preferring UK blood products to those imported from abroad.

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He wrote in 1979: “The clinical reason is the growing awareness of the probability that commercial concentrates have a higher risk of transmitting non-A, non-B hepatitis than NHS material.”

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Hepatitis C was known as “non-A, non-B” hepatitis at this time.

Families and patients at the Royal Free’s haemophilia unit – including Mark Stewart – have expressed concern at occasions they were given the riskier factor products unnecessarily.

Mark said he was “relieved the truth is finally starting to come out”.

In the letter, Dr Kernoff, who died in 2006, writes that, children without previous exposure to infected blood “should, if possible, be treated with cryoprecipitate in preference to large pool Factor VIII concentrates” until it was possible to ensure hepatitis was not present.

Ms Richards discussed the first evidence of knowledge that HIV/Aids was being transmitted in blood products. She pointed to a 1982 department of health memo warning of a “furore” in the press after reports that haemophiliacs in America had developed signs of a serious virus.

Mark Ward, a haemophiliac who contracted HIV from contaminated blood products, told the Ham&High the evidence was “much more powerful”, and added that, despite what was known neither he nor his family were told about hepatitis C or Aids, or of “any actions being taken to protect haemophiliacs or any suggestion of testing”.

The inquiry continues with clinicians – including from the Royal Free – giving evidence throughout October and November.The inquiry continues with clinicians – including from the Royal Free – giving evidence throughout October and November.


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