Transfusion board fails to trace 11 suspect blood products

 

AT least 11 blood products, potentially contaminated by HIV, have not yet been traced by the Blood Transfusion Services Board. This was disclosed last night following confirmation that three more patients - one in Dublin and two in the south east - received HIV infected blood.

All three were elderly men and are now dead. It remains unclear whether they had become HIV positive. The fourth, a nurse who is now on leave from St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, became infected after a blood transfusion for anaemia in 1985.

Further details of the contamination were disclosed yesterday as the inquiry into the hepatitis C scandal heard evidence from two former national directors of the BTSB relating to the events surrounding the anti D controversy.

One of them, Dr Terry Walsh, who held the post from 1985 until last year, regretted "very much" that no one at the BTSB made the connection in 1977 between antiD and a hepatitis like outbreak. "I've been very, very deeply upset by this," he said.

The other, Dr Jack O'Riordan (82), who retired in 1985, said his memory of the events was very poor.

The latest controversy surrounding the BTSB was also raised at a Dail committee yesterday when the Minister for Health, Mr Noonan, said that the board's chief executive, Mr Liam Dunbar, should have told him it was aware last May that blood products may have been contaminated with HIV.

Mr Noonan said he would meet Mr Dunbar before he goes into the bail on Tuesday to answer questions on the latest contamination controversy. But he insisted he was "not prepared to criticise" Mr Dunbar.

The BTSB wrote to 45 hospitals in September in an attempt to locate 31 blood products potentially contaminated by HIV. But the letters made no mention of HIV, a decision which was defended by Mr Dunbar yesterday on the grounds that the board did not want to cause alarm. However, he conceded that an immediate response could have been sought.

The BTSB believed it was not a "major issue", said Mr Dunbar, and therefore did not tell the board of the BTSB or the Minister.

It emerged that the South Eastern Health Board, which was closely involved in the issue at the weekend because of the discovery that a nurse employed by it was HIV positive, only learned of other potentially infected doses on Tuesday.

Mr Dunbar was unable to explain why after seven blood donors tested HIV positive between 1985 and 1989 and the board took no further donations from them - the BTSB did not proceed to trace where the donations went at that time.

Thirty one blood products, mainly red cells, platelets and plasma, were made from the donations and issued to hospitals. The number untraced is now at least 11.

The BTSB also confirmed that the difficulty in tracing the contaminated blood products derived from relevant records that are now missing.