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Thousands infected with HCV from blood transfusion


Norfolk Eastern Daily Press - Norfolk,England,UK
26 January 2006 08:00
These are the pictures that show how an East Anglian businessman was reduced from a healthy family man to a frail shadow of his former self - the victim of a blood transfusion scandal.
Stuart Oliver, 47, died of cancer and chronic liver disease exactly a year ago today, just weeks after doctors discovered he had contracted hepatitis C.
Now, an EDP investigation has revealed that the NHS took more than 15 years to warn some patients they might have been infected, and that many more remain unaware they could be at risk.
Last night, Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson, who founded the Commons All-Party Group on Cancer, said: "There is a huge volcano waiting to explode on this issue.
"It's predicted many more people will have hepatitis C in the next few years. It needs more political action."
Mr Oliver's widow Pauline, 55, said: "I wonder how many more Stuarts there are walking around out there, not knowing they could be three months from death. It all happened so fast we didn't have a chance."
Doctors believe Mr Oliver, of Friday Bridge, near Wisbech, was given infected blood at the Peterborough General Hospital, during surgery for injuries he received in a car crash in 1987. He carried the disease completely unawares for almost two decades and by the time he was taken ill, late in 2004, it was too late to save him.
The Health Protection Agency believes up to 200,000 people contracted hepatitis C from infected blood. But only one in four is aware they have the disease.
The Hepatitis C Trust believes as many as 500,000 could have been infected.
Its chief executive Charles Gore said: "If 50,000 have been diagnosed, that's one in 10 and 450,000 is the volcano bubbling away with serious implications for the NHS."
Hepatitis C was not discovered until 1988, a year after Mr Oliver's transfusion.
Blood screening did not begin until an effective test was developed three years later.
The National Blood Service admits it does not know how many people could have been infected before then.
Four years later, the NHS launched a campaign to trace those at risk of infection.
But instead of contacting all those who had been given a transfusion, it waited until screening identified an infected donor.
That means anyone infected prior to 1991, whose donor did not give blood after checks were put in place, would slip through the net.
Last night Mr Oliver's daughter Kerry, 34, said: "It's a year since he died and no-one's prepared to take responsibility or even tell us what went wrong.
"They must have known they'd given him infected blood but nothing was done about it. We just want to know why."
Mr Oliver's MP, Malcolm Moss, said: "It was the speed of his deterioration which was so shocking.
"I have written to the Health Minister pointing out the discrepancy between when the screening was done and going back to advise those who had transfusions before that date.
"I've asked him to investigate and for an explanation to be given."
Peterborough General Hospital, whose A&E department treated Stuart Oliver after his car crash in 1987, said: "The trust never received any instruction from the Regional Transfusion Centre to check its records against blood products that would have been relevant to the deceased. The reasons for this need to be taken up with the National Blood Authority."
The National Blood Authority said in a statement: "If an infected donor did not give blood after screening was introduced in late 1991, then the donor and the blood service would not know that the donor had hepatitis C and no look back would be done on that person's previous donations.
"We have no way of knowing how many of these there are or identifying them."
In December 2004, as Stuart Oliver and his family came to terms with the fact he had weeks left to live, a public information campaign was finally launched to warn people given transfusions that they may have become infected.
Ministers have so far refused calls for a public enquiry saying it would do nothing to help sufferers.
Last week, the Government admitted documents concerning contaminated blood given to patients before 1991 had been destroyed.
Former Health Secretary Lord Jenkin told the Lords he had been told key papers were missing when he tried to research the issue on behalf of sufferers.
Last night he told the EDP: "Somebody went through all the files and extracted anything which could conceivably have anything to do with contaminated blood.
"There are a lot of people out there who think there's a conspiracy to destroy the evidence."
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