HIV victims 'may miss payout date'

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE who became infected with HIV through blood transfusions have until Wednesday to claim for compensation under a government scheme. Now lawyers fear that some with the Aids virus or their families will miss out on payments because they do not know that they are potential claimants.

Leukaemia patients who received blood transfusions in the early 1980s before screening for HIV was introduced, may have been infected with the virus.

But their resulting symptoms and death would not necessarily have been attributed to HIV or Aids - they and their families may not have been told of the infection. Leukaemia and the drugs used to treat it result in immunosuppression as does HIV infection.

One such case has just come to light, and Graham Ross, the solicitor who co-ordinated the successful action against the Government on behalf of HIV- infected haemophiliacs, says there may be more.

Mr Ross, of J Keith Park & Co in St Helens, Merseyside, said last night that while doctors had sought out potential claimants, it was inevitable that some had not been contacted. 'I feel some general publicity ought to have been promoted by the Government.'

One of Mr Ross's clients is a woman whose husband, a leukaemia patient, died some years ago, a few months after an apparently successful bone marrow transplant.

'She had been given to believe that he had died from rejection of the transplant but it was discovered that in fact he had been HIV- positive at death, and this was likely to have followed a series of blood platelet transfusions given as part of the standard leukaemia treatment.'

It is not possible to establish whether her husband would have survived were it not for the HIV infection but doctors had known about his HIV status in 1987. The wife was not told until last September.

The woman's claim on the scheme has been accepted by the department.

Mr Ross also represents three people who contracted HIV from blood transfusions, and who are seeking damages from a health authority or donor on the grounds of negligence. To bring such a case would require the release of confidential medical records by a health authority for information on blood donors, and evidence that the HIV strain infecting the victim was similar to that carried by the donor.

Chances of a successful claim are slim, Mr Ross said, but HIV litigation is a growth area and many cases are expected in the near future. He has already discussed the possibility of using genetic studies of the virus as forensic evidence to identify a sexual partner who may have infected a client.

In the US there have been more than 200 lawsuits involving the transmission of HIV.