vCJD

– in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 18th November 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Neuberger Baroness Neuberger Liberal Democrat 11:15 am, 18th November 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Health Protection Agency will ensure that all medical and other health practitioners provide guidance and counselling to those young people who have received letters warning of the possible risk of vCJD contamination from plasma products in their National Health Service treatment.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, as I indicated to the noble Baroness on 28 October in my reply to her supplementary question, the notification exercise by the Health Protection Agency is being delivered through the 150 clinicians who are treating people with haemophilia and bleeding disorders, and patients with primary immunodeficiency. These specialist clinicians are known to their patients and are best placed to advise and counsel them and to present this complex information about risk to them, irrespective of their age.

Photo of Baroness Neuberger Baroness Neuberger Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I should like to press this a little further. Given the suggestion that some blood tests may shortly become available, and given the implications of variant CJD for younger people, who seem to be more susceptible than older people, I wonder whether the clinicians alone are the right people to deal with this. Could the Government give guidance that counselling should be made available to those who want it, as they have done for people having infertility treatment? Very often, the clinicians do not have the time and sometimes not even the skills to provide the counselling that is needed. Is the Minister prepared to reconsider?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the process that has been put in place was agreed with all the patient interests. It was agreed that the information would be communicated by the HPA to the clinicians who would contact the patients, see them, explain matters to them and deal with any requests. There is no screening test available, although research is continuing in this area. We know that children born after 1996 will, in the main, not be involved, as they would not have received implicated products. The decision was taken in February 1998 to place all haemophiliacs under 16 on synthetic clotting products.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, I was involved in this sort of situation in about 1998. Will the Minister please tell me where the plasma products originate? Are they from this country or another country?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, this exercise arises from the fact, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State told another place in December, that a person who had died of variant CJD had received blood from a donor who had died of variant CJD. We are looking at the 176 batches of plasma products that may have had blood from those sources. We are tracing the people who may have received those plasma products, which would almost certainly have come from within this country.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the problems with this group of diseases is that the infective agent responsible for both sporadic and new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is neither a bacterium nor a virus but a prion, a molecule of protein which cannot be destroyed by standard techniques of disinfection or sterilisation? Is he aware that at a recent meeting of the American Neurological Association, Stanley Prusiner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on prions, reported that a blood test to identify the presence of these agents in blood is likely to be developed within the next two years?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I always bow to the noble Lord's scientific knowledge in this area. I am aware that there is optimism in this regard, and I know that the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Blood and Tissues for Transplantation is looking at many of these issues.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, how can BSE in cattle transfer to CJD in people? What dialogue and co-operation is there between Defra and the Department of Health?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, this is an extremely joined-up government and the co-operation between Defra and the Department of Health is unparalleled. There is a rather long and complicated answer to the noble Baroness's question and I will write her a suitable letter.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a television programme this morning showed that CJD has been transmitted through a family by inheritance? Is that a new aspect to be concerned about or is it a fairly rare incidence?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I did not see the television this morning, but I will look into that particular case and write to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Shadow Minister, Family, Shadow Minister, Health

My Lords, what research has been done to test the hypothesis that variant CJD can be transmitted through blood transfusions?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, this issue is being looked at actively by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Blood and Tissues. I am not sure of the detail of how far it has got in that research, but I will check and write to the noble Earl.