Compensation over growth hormone refused

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The Independent Online
THE Department of Health refused last night to compensate nearly 2,000 people who underwent growth hormone therapy as children and may now be at risk from a rare and incurable brain disease. It has admitted that officials advised one NHS worker against releasing information, which suggests that the department bears some responsibility for the risk to some of those affected.

The refusal comes despite evidence disclosed in the Independent this week that the hormone, which was made from human pituitary glands, was contaminated with Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD) because there were no adequate regulations in NHS mortuaries prohibiting the use of infected organs taken from people who had died from the disease. Leading scientists say precautions should have been taken because existing medical research showed that there was a danger that infected organs could spread the disease. Nine people have already died from CJD since the hormone treatment, which started in 1959, was withdrawn in 1985. Fifty families have been awarded legal aid to sue the department for medical negligence.

The Independent has received many phone calls from people who took the hormone and have been told nothing by the DoH about the possible risk. The latter admitted last night that only about three-quarters of the 1,900 former patients had been contacted.

The department said: 'It is a tragedy that a treatment considered to be safe and effective and highly valued because it enabled children to achieve their full potential height should now be linked with this fatal disease. However, as the treatment conformed with the best known scientific and clinical practice of the time, we do not accept there are grounds for awarding financial compensation.'

Workers in four mortuaries in south-east England have told the Independent that they collected pituitary glands from cadavers while unaware of any guidelines that prohibited use of organs from CJD-infected bodies.

The department said guidelines were introduced in 1981 when a wall chart was produced for mortuaries which stated that organs from cadavers suspected of having CJD were not to be removed for the hormone. However, four mortuary workers contacted said they did not see such a chart.

One of these workers said that he was told by officials from the department not to release a statement disclosing the method in which the organs were collected to families campaigning for compensation.