Faulty blood bags tested for service

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Blood bags which caused a health service scare when they proved faulty are being tested for reintroduction into the National Health Service.

The National Blood Service is using Tuta bags in Newcastle and Southampton for a trial period after the manufacturers made modifications to prevent a repeat of problems experienced in July last year. Stephen Clegg, a patient at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon, needed treatment in intensive care after being given blood from a bag that was infected.

The move to reintroduce the blood packs comes as the service is relinquishing a hard-won British Standards Institution quality assurance mark at the Oxford transfusion centre - the centre which identified the precise problem last year with the blood-bag seals.

The National Blood Authority (NBA) yesterday insisted that quality standards were as high as ever and they had every confidence in the modified bags.

But Tessa Jowell, Labour's health spokeswoman, is raising the matter with Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, and asking him to guarantee the safety of the blood supply. "I'm concerned that the blood service is abandoning an important bench-mark of quality," she said.

She also called for an independent check before Tuta bags were used again. "Donors give blood because they trust the blood service to use the donations properly," she said.

Dr Angela Robinson, medical director of the NBA which runs the National Blood Service (NBS), said exhaustive checks were carried out as part of a new round of contracting for the supply of blood bags in England and they had confidence in the new manufacturing procedure.

"Lessons have been learnt as a result of last year's incident that have enabled the NBS to introduce new national systems which guarantee the quality of products supplied."

The service also defended the decision to relinquish the British Standards Institution quality standard from 2 December. In a memorandum to staff, executive director Gary Austin said there was "no additional benefit" in having the registration, the costs of which were "considerable".