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