Haemophilia Scotland Response to the Penrose Report – The Evidence
The Scottish Government has been committed to investigating the contaminated blood disaster for many years. By setting up the Penrose Inquiry they showed a commendable commitment to uncovering the truth of this scandal. That commitment to truth must now be matched by an equal commitment to justice and fulfilling the moral duty of care to those devastated by the disaster.
The Penrose Report reveals the enormous levels of suffering that has been endured for decades by individuals and families all over Scotland. The Report contains powerful testimony of the horrendous damage to health, relationships and finances suffered by 478 Scottish families affected by bleeding disorders. For 193 of them their loved one has not survived to see the Penrose Report published. The Scottish public will be shocked and appalled at the level of suffering that has been caused by the greatest scandal ever to engulf the NHS.
Haemophilia Scotland, those infected, and their families are determined that all the decades of pain, loss and suffering should lead to real improvements in patient safety. We stand ready to work with the Scottish Government to make that happen. This is now in their hands and we feel sure they won’t let us down.
Finally, we’d like to acknowledge the bravery of patients who gave oral and written evidence; the hard work of the patient interest legal team; Lord Penrose and his Inquiry Team; and the dedication of hard-working medical and fractionating staff, not implicated in the report, who spent their careers to provide treatment and care to people with bleeding disorders. We would also like to remember those who have not survived the contaminated blood disaster. We hope that the Penrose Inquiry, and the Scottish and UK Government’s response will alleviate the suffering of the survivors and their families as well as the bereaved.
The Penrose Inquiry investigations have uncovered some shocking revelations about the contaminated blood disaster in Scotland. With a comparatively short period of time we cannot claim to present a comprehensive list but only to highlight the strength of the evidence contained within the report.
- Prisoner Blood Donation. There is a specific finding that there were good scientific and medical grounds for terminating prison collections by the early 1980’s [26.247]. There is a finding that there was a higher prevalence of Hepatitis C in the prison population in the 1970’s and 1980s and patients were infected because of the continuation of the practice of Prison collection [26.264]
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that the practice of using taking blood donations from prisoner should have stopped years earlier than it did.
- Blood Donor Selection. Despite the existence of International Standards from 1976 onwards that illicit drug use should debar donation, the SNBTS failed to insist that direct questions were asked of donors relative to the their intravenous drug use until the later 1980’s [26.25].
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that direct questions about high risk behaviour should have been integral part of the donor selection system.
- Patient Information. There are countless examples where it is recorded that patients were given insufficient information about the risk of HCV infection [e.g. Patient “Christine” Patient “Alex” [34.106 -34.108]. No well-established or generally accepted procedural protocols for communicating information to each individual patient about the risks associated with the use of therapeutic products, the relative risks of avoiding therapy and the nature of the choice that the patient had to make about their own condition and the treatment for it. [34.195]. Edinburgh Cohort Patients who wanted to know their HIV status should have been told of this by early 1985, in fact some patients were not told for many years [33.437]. Patients infected with a potentially fatal virus such as HIV, or infected with HCV and at risk of developing the serious complications of cirrhosis, possibly hepatocellular cancer, and other fatal complications, are entitled to this information and should not have to wait while the medical profession deliberates on general ethical issues. At a basic human level help is needed in real time as it becomes clear that the patient has acquired a serious infection or other illness. [34.225]
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that patients infected with Hepatitis C or HIV should have been given the option to know about their status straight away.
- Scottish Blood Products. For those using domestic products, the Inquiry questions the faith which clinicians had in the UK blood supply [12.26]. Scottish research showed immunosuppression in patients treated exclusively with the PFC products. In 1983 it was no longer reasonable to think that they were safer than the imported products [12.152]
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that all blood products should have been considered to carry a significant risk from blood borne viruses from 1983
- Commercial Blood Products from America. The use of commercial factor VIII concentrate was responsible for the infection with HIV of around a quarter of the children treated for Haemophilia A at Yorkhill hospital in the early 1980s [Executive Summary Page 18]. As far as commercial products were concerned, the Inquiry points out that these products were unlicensed until 1983 [21.348]
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that the decision to import commercial clotting factor products, despite Scotland being able to produce sufficient domestic product, led to an increased number of HIV infections.
- Contradictory Government Information on AIDS. Transfusion doctors in Edinburgh published a leaflet for donors which said that that AIDS could “almost certainly” be transmitted by blood and blood products in September 1983 [9.110]. Advice which was given my medical experts to the Haemophilia Society in March 1983 regarding the safety of concentrates provided false reassurance to the patients [9.98]. The Inquiry expresses “sympathy” for the position of Dr Mark Winter which was critical of the UK Government line that there was “no conclusive evidence” that HIV was transmitted by blood or blood products and concludes that it (the line) led to a real risk of misrepresentation [9.123]
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that people with bleeding disorders were given misleading information about the risk they faced from AIDS.
- Access to safer treatment options. The Inquiry states that a wholesale shift to cryoprecipitate use carrying a lower risk of HIV transmission in the 1980s was technically achievable [12.173]. The Inquiry concludes that a re-evaluation needed to take place of the risk/ benefit analysis of the therapy in the middle of September 1983  despite the fact that it also finds on the basis of the Scottish research alone, such a re-assessment was due in the spring of 1983 [12.153]. Professor Hann at Yorkhill offered his patients a choice of treatment in 1983 whereas Professor Forbes in Glasgow and Professor Ludlam in Edinburgh and the other Scottish clinicians did not [12.171]. They continued to use concentrates.
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that as the risks of clotting factor concentrates became clearer all people with bleeding disorders in Scotland should have been offered alternative treatment options. Whether or not to take these risks was properly a decision for patients to take with advice from clinicians.
- The danger from Hepatitis C. The Inquiry finds that by mid-1985 it was or should have been realised that hepatitis C was a progressive and potentially lethal disease [22.135 and 35.238 and 70]. The Inquiry observes without contradiction the evidence which suggested that by 1985, the pool size had become so large that infection as a result of a single exposure to a factor concentrate (whether domestic or commercial) would have resulted in inevitable infection. [15.125 and 15.126].
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that by 1985 being treated with a blood product in Scotland meant being infected with a progressive and potentially lethal disease.
- Treatment outside specialist centres. Guidance should have gone to hospitals outwith main centres about the risks of the transmission of hepatitis C to previously untreated patients [22.152]. That guidance should have been promulgated by the government in Scotland [22.140] and such guidance would not have infringed the clinical independence of the doctors [22.153]. It was precisely in the circumstances in which previously untreated patients were infected in Scotland over this period that guidance on the risks for such patients would have been useful [22.142]. There should have been guidance for junior doctors in hospitals about these particular risks and dangers.
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that appropriate guidance was not provided outside specialist Haemophilia Centres and as a result previously untreated people were put at risk.
- Access to safer English clotting factor products. 8Y (the English HCV safe factor VIII available at that time) could have been obtained for use in the treatment of Scottish virgin patients if it had been requested as part of the clinical trial of that product [22.147]. Physicians beyond Edinburgh and practitioners responsible for those with bleeding disorders should have been told that there was a supply of 8Y available after the summer of 1986 [22.149]. Concentrates should not have been used in the treatment of previously untreated patients from 1985 unless it was unavoidable [22.136].
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that a supply of the safer 8Y product from England should have been made available throughout Scotland for the treatment of previously untreated people.
- Surrogate Testing. The Inquiry found it likely that ALT testing would have reduced the incidence of HCV from blood transfusions [Executive Summary page 31].
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that ALT testing should have been introduced.
- Routine Anti HCV Testing. The Inquiry concludes that there was a delay in the introduction of routine anti-HCV testing in Scotland, which could have exposed individuals to infection with HCV from blood transfusions. It was concluded that routine testing of blood donations should have been recommended by the transfusion services to the government by May 1990 which, due to kit availability would have meant that routine testing could have commenced in autumn 1990. [35.233]. The Inquiry has concluded that there was no medical or scientific reason why the introduction of routine anti HCV testing should have been delayed in Scotland to achieve simultaneous introduction with the rest of the UK, as it was [35.234]
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that the delay in introducing routine anti-HCV testing was a missed opportunity to prevent infections.
- Alerting blood donors to AIDS risks. Leaflets were produced for blood donors to explain what activities were high-risk in relation to blood borne viruses from March 1983. AIDS was already known to be an extremely serious disease. The balance of opinion among transfusionists was moving towards a viral aetiology: [HIV] was apparently transmitted by blood. A precautionary approach to the possibility of risk required action (paragraph 28.92). However, no steps were taken to ensure that they had been read until November 1984. At this point donors were asked to sign a declaration to say that they had read the leaflet and should not be excluded.
Haemophilia Scotland concludes that the earlier passive approach inappropriately relied on people with no medical training, who believed that they were well, to self-identify as potentially having a deadly and incurable virus.
- AIDS caused by an infectious agent. There is a general tendency in the report to favour the need for things to be established with a significant degree of medical certainty before being prepared to recognise anything approaching an obligation to act. The report notes [11.26] the independent evidence of Dr Mark Winter on the importance of the case of the San Francisco baby in 1982 as proving that immunodeficiency later to be known as AIDS was caused by an infectious agent [11.79]. The Inquiry heard evidence that the latter half of 1983 most people in Scotland came to accept that AIDS was caused by the transmission of an infective agent [12.121]. Transfusion doctors in Edinburgh published a leaflet for donors which said that that AIDS could “almost certainly” be transmitted by blood and blood products in September 1983 [9.110]. Haemophilia Scotland concludes that it is wrong to hold that it was not until the Autumn of 1984 that the infective theory was established.