Inquiry into why donors not told of hepatitis C

 

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Martin, has confirmed he is to set up an inquiry into the delay by the Blood Transfusion Service Board in informing at least 28 blood donors of positive test results for hepatitis C.

The move follows a decision by one such donor who was not immediately informed of his test result to sue the BTSB and the State for damages.

The donor, who gave evidence to the 1997 Finlay tribunal under the pseudonym Donor L, is understood to have initiated proceedings in the past six months.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Martin said he would meet "within the next week" representatives of the campaign groups Transfusion Positive and Positive Action to discuss the terms of reference of the inquiry.

The two bodies requested an independent examination of the issue by a senior counsel following the disclosure that 28 donors had been identified as having had a delay in being notified of their hepatitis C status.

The 28 cases, which include Donor L, were identified by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS), as the BTSB has become.

All are said to have eventually become aware of their hepatitis C statuses. However, only Donor L is understood to be aware of the delay in conveying test results.

The matter had been raised at the Finlay tribunal where Dr Joan Power, the IBTS's regional director in Cork, confirmed that Donor L had tested positive for hepatitis C on several occasions before being informed of his test results. She said uncertainty at the time over the accuracy of the tests, and a fear of causing unnecessary alarm, warranted deferring the disclosure of results.

Screening for hepatitis C anti-bodies was introduced by the BTSB in 1991 but it was not until November 1993 that Donor L was informed of his positive status. He had donated blood six times in the interim. None of these donations was used, however.

The latest inquiry has been launched against the background of a renewed threat of legal action against the State over its handling of the blood scandals.

If Donor L's case is successful the 27 other donors who were not immediately informed of their test results may, likewise, be able to sue.

In his statement yesterday, Mr Martin said his Department understood from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service that all the donors in question were subsequently informed that they were infected with hepatitis C "and the full range of healthcare services is available to them".

However, campaigners have noted that had people been told immediately of positive test results they could have sought medical care at an earlier stage and taken greater efforts to avoid possible onward infection to family members.

Positive Action executive member Ms Detta Warnock said her organisation was informed by the Department of the 28 cases about two months ago and subsequently asked for the independent investigation. It is understood the group is concerned there may be more such cases which have yet to be identified by the IBTS.

The IBTS yesterday declined to comment on the controversy. However, it understood the agency will be meeting the Department in the coming weeks to discuss the inquiry's terms of reference.

It is expected the inquiry will examine exactly how donors were notified of positive test results for hepatitis C since 1991.