Fate of some blood components from HIV infected donors unknown, inquiry told

Dr Jack Gillon has been giving evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry.

Lucinda Cameron
Wednesday 19 January 2022 13:56
The Infected Blood Inquiry is hearing evidence remotely (Tom Eden/PA)
The Infected Blood Inquiry is hearing evidence remotely (Tom Eden/PA)

It is not known what happened to a “substantial percentage” of blood components taken from HIV infected donors by one transfusion service, an inquiry has heard.

The Infected Blood Inquiry was told on Wednesday that when HIV screening began in the mid-1980s, the South East Scotland Blood Transfusion Service (SEBTS) tried to identify the recipients of any blood and blood products from infected donors.

However due to factors including missing hospital records, the “eventual fate” of all of the components could not be established.

The UK-wide Infected Blood Inquiry is being held to examine how patients were given infected blood and infected blood products, leading to thousands contracting HIV, Aids and/or hepatitis in the 1970s and 1980s.

About 2,400 people died in what has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

The biggest problem by far was missing hospital records or failure to record the eventual fate of a blood component

Dr Jack Gillon

Dr Jack Gillon, who was consultant haematologist with SEBTS from 1985 to 2006, said when a donor was identified as positive through HIV screening they were informed and offered support.

Serum samples from their previous donations were then analysed to establish when they may have become infected, and efforts were made to discover what had happened to the blood.

Giving evidence remotely, Dr Gillon said: “I would get a list of the previous donations, what components had been produced, if plasma had gone to PFC (Plasma Fractionation Centre) that would have been notified to PFC immediately, and then the fate of those various components would be explored.

“We would know to which blood banks the components had gone in the region or elsewhere and we would then contact the relevant hospital blood banks to try to establish the identity of the recipient for each and every component.”

Dr Gillon said that as a general rule, he would then be the person who would see the recipient to tell them the news.

Sarah Fraser Butlin, junior counsel to the inquiry, asked what problems he faced during the tracing process.

He said: “The biggest problem by far was missing hospital records or failure to record the eventual fate of a blood component.

“That could be for all sorts of reasons, from records being lost or destroyed, some hospitals had a relatively short period of storage for records, most didn’t by then I think, but all sorts of administrative problems like that and simple practical problems made it impossible to trace quite a substantial percentage of the components.”

Dr Gillon said if he knew a donor had donated outside of the SEBTS region, he would have written to the equivalent doctor to him in that region to let them know and they would have started the same process.

Asked whether there was any way to check whether a donor had donated elsewhere if they did not tell SEBTS, he said: “No, I don’t think there was, until the national computer system became active in 1996-ish.”

Dr Gillon was consultant physician at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service from 2006 onwards.

The inquiry, taking place before chairman Sir Brian Langstaff, continues.

It is hoping to encourage people who were either infected, or those close to them, to come forward to share their experiences as evidence, with more information available on the inquiry website https://www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk/.

Inquiry chiefs said sharing evidence will help it make recommendations to stop this happening again, and will ensure these experiences are a matter of public record.

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