Turks profit from British blood donors

Secret trade: MPs raise questions about transfusion service practices as commercial exploitation of volunteers is denied
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The Independent Online




Products made from freely donated blood in Britain are on sale abroad at huge profits.

A Turkish price list seen by the Independent provides the first evidence that money is being made out of blood provided by British volunteers, despite denials by the National Blood Authority (NBA), which runs the service.

The authority has claimed repeatedly that there is no commercial exploitation. Its blood products are sold overseas only occasionally, when there are surpluses, and to recover costs.

But the Turkish price list shows that the consumer price of the British- made Factor VIII, a clotting agent used for treating haemophiliacs, is four times the UK price, in a business operation which donors have not been consulted on.

At least part of the difference is understood to go to the Turkish government, which imposes a 10 per cent import tax, and in profits for the businessmen responsible for importing, storing and transporting the products.

Osman Karaomeroglu of Sodhan Medical Instruments Manufacturing and Trading Company, the licensed distributor for the British products in Turkey, said it was the common practice for the government to multiply the price of a foreign imported medicine two or three times.

A quantity (500 international units) produced by Bio Products Laboratory (BPL), the laboratory of the National Blood Authority, is available for pounds 399 (31,522,748 Turkish lira) compared to the UK price of around pounds 90. Similar mark-ups appear on albumin, a by- product which is used to treat burns. Turkish government records show Factor VIII was exported by BPL at twice the price paid by at least some British hospitals.

Both donors and doctors expressed anger and concern yesterday. Donor Steve Goddard, 26, an Oxford University lecturer, said: "I would not be happy about the possibility of any private company making a profit, or of a government, particularly one with a human rights record like Turkey, taking a large whack. And I think it would put people off donating blood." Some donors have already withdrawn in protest.

Dr Paul Giangrande, a consultant haematologist who treats haemophiliacs, said: "If there is material left over, it comes from volunteer donors and it should be given, not sold.

"Most people don't realise that even here, blood is being traded as a commodity internally within the NHS market. I have to buy blood products."

A spokeswoman for the National Blood Authority and Bio Products Laboratory said details of which blood products were sold abroad were "commercially confidential".The authority would not explain why blood products were apparently exported to Turkey at twice the UK price.

But although she insisted the NBA made no profit itself, she admitted the authority did not have control over what profits were made overseas.

"If you are a distributor, you have to make your living."

In the Commons, Nick Brown, Labour's health spokes-man, said: "This may well be standard behaviour, standard practice, for a private, profit- driven firm in a competitive marketplace, but surely it has no place in an ethically-based public service whose overriding purpose is to meet the needs of patients?"

Gerry Malone, Minister of State for Health, said: "Price-setting outside the UK has nothing to do with the NBA and is not within the control of the Government."

But Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "I do not understand why the National Blood Authority ... cannot establish in its contracts of sale enforceable conditions to ensure that does not happen.

"It is quite normal for international contracts to contain restrictive conditions on what should happen to the product that is sold. It happens regularly with regard to defence material and I do not see why it should not happen in relation to blood."