Second Reading

Part of Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 12:36 pm on 11th December 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench 12:36 pm, 11th December 2009

My Lords, when I went to the Printed Paper Office and asked for the contaminated blood Bill, a Member of your Lordships' House, who must have come from the other place, said that it does not have time for such matters. My immediate thought was, "Shame on them". The Bill shows the importance of your Lordships' House because it gives time for such humane and important matters and for the scrutiny of legislation. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on his continued persistence over this important and heartrending matter. I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, on his report, which is of great importance to many people. He will have spent much time and energy over its creation.

I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Haemophilia Society. I know the importance of blood transfusions. My life was saved by them when I sustained an internal haemorrhage at the time I broke my back. In later years, I also had blood transfusions when I became anaemic after travelling abroad. I also know how important it is to have experts who understand blood complications, as my blood group changed from negative to positive.

Patient safety, particularly when working with blood, blood products and transplantation, should be paramount. Health safety has not been given the top priority that it should have been given, and now we have the problems of healthcare-acquired infections and the disasters that your Lordships are discussing today, along with matters that could help the people afflicted and that are stated in this Bill, and I do hope the Bill will come into law.

The contaminated blood disaster has been described as one of the most tragic episodes in the health service's history. When haemophiliacs were infected with infected factor 8 in the early years of HIV, the first husband of my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who was a haemophiliac, was infected with HIV and died. They lived in north Yorkshire near where I lived. Seventy-five per cent of the haemophiliacs who were treated at the haemophilia unit in Newcastle-upon-Tyne were infected with HIV from blood products that were imported from the USA. This was because the UK was not self-sufficient in blood products.

I was introduced by a friend to a young man called Jonathan Miller, who was one of the campaigners for help for haemophiliacs with HIV. Jonathan came to lunch with me at my home in Yorkshire, and afterwards told me privately in my study what terrible agony he was in because of his knee joints. He did not want to discuss this with his parents, and I felt privileged that he wanted to share this secret with me. Some time later, I attended his memorial service in London.

Again, in the early days, I heard a distraught father tell how his young son, aged six, and his best friend, both of whom were haemophiliacs and infected with HIV, had been denied a visit to Disneyland because they were HIV positive. They were HIV positive because they had been treated with infected blood products imported from the USA. I felt, and still feel, that the attitude of the USA to these children was unforgivable.

Is it surprising that I support this Bill, which supports infected and bereaved persons? It is not easy having to deal with being a haemophiliac patient, but they have to be dealt with, having been infected by HIV or hepatitis C. Now, 802 patients are known to have had blood from donors who subsequently died of vCJD, which constitutes yet another threat to this community.

A government scientific body has recommended that all red blood cells given in transfusions to children under the age of 13 should be filtered to remove the infection that causes the fatal brain disease of vCJD. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is caused by mutated proteins known as prions, which infect the victim's brain, forming sponge-like holes in the tissue and causing a fatal neurodegenerative disorder. Derek Kenny from Portsmouth died of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease six years ago after being given a contaminated blood transfusion. His widow Judy said: "The idea of a filtration system is excellent. If it was proven to be effective, we ought to use it because that way we can be sure that the blood pool is safe and that everyone receives safe blood". Should filtered blood not be offered to everyone, irrespective of their age? Will the Minister update your Lordships on this today? Is it not time that the Government accepted the recommendations made in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer? I hope that the Minister, who I am sure will do her best, will tell us today that a committee to advise on the treatment of haemophilia will be set up without delay.

Haemophilia has lots and lots of complications, as do the conditions hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human T-lymphotropic virus, syphilis and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease mentioned in Clause 2(2). Expert advice needs to be forthcoming for everyone who needs it, and medical and nursing staff need training.

This committee should have been set up years ago so that people could share together for the good of patients and their supporters. A public inquiry into how people were infected with hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood has been set up in Scotland. I am a Scot. I read what Lord Penrose said:

"Many people have died. Many of the patients who survive, and the families of patients who died, deserve our deepest sympathy".

Of course they do, but they want and deserve more than sympathy-they want action. This is a running sore that will not heal until there is a satisfactory solution.