Doctor blocked growth hormone in 1970s: Pressure grows to compensate patients at risk of incurable brain disease. Tim Kelsey reports

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The Independent Online
A NATIONAL Health Service doctor was so concerned by the possible contamination of a government-made growth hormone for children that during the late 1970s he told his patients to seek alternative therapy.

The disclosure will increase pressure on the Government to compensate nearly 2,000 people who took the contaminated hormone, derived from cadavers, and who are now at risk of contracting a rare and incurable brain disease.

The growth hormone was developed in 1959 by government scientists and withdrawn in 1985 because of fears that it was contaminated with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Pituitary glands collected for use in the hormone were, in some cases, taken from bodies of people who had died from the disease. Scientists argue that the Department of Health should have reviewed the safety of the treatment much earlier than 1985.

The department denies any liability and is refusing to compensate the 1,900 young adults who took the hormone as children and who are now at risk of contracting CJD. Nine people who took it have died from the disease. Fifty families have been granted legal aid to sue the department for medical negligence.

The department says that the manufacture of the hormone accorded with the 'best clinical practice of the time'. But it has emerged that a leading NHS doctor was so concerned by the possibility that the hormone was contaminated he ordered his patients not to use it at least seven years before it was withdrawn.

Dr William Hamilton, a growth hormone specialist based at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, told patients to stop taking the hormone, manufactured by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the Department of Health, and seek a supply from the Continent.

One of his patients was Stephen Shereenan. Initially, his mother, Jane, went to her local GP who obtained the hormone for her. Later, Dr Hamilton was able to supply direct through the hospital.

His concerns, according to his successor, Dr Malcolm Donaldson, focused on the hormonal purity of the British-made product. Dr Hamilton, who said he was unable to comment, believed there was a serious risk of it adversely affecting the sexual development of his patients. He was not at first worried by the prospect of CJD contamination, although patients say this soon concerned him.

Stephen Shereenan died aged 19 in March 1986. He had been taking the British-made hormone for about a year before Dr Hamilton barred its use.

More than 170 Britons have died since taking the hormone, but only nine have been certified as having died from CJD.

In most cases there has been no post-mortem examination to establish the cause of death. Stephen died from what doctors diagnosed as a brain tumour but his mother has been privately advised by one consultant that it is most likely he died from CJD.

Ms Shereenan said: 'All the symptoms were the same as in other CJD cases.' She added: 'All I want to know is the truth. They've been hiding from it for all these years and now is the time to say: 'We're sorry'. '