Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Huge negligence episode by the NHS being ignored by the British government

Report just released on use of contaminated blood by the NHS. HIV and Hep C were the contaminants concerned. The following quote from the Archer Report tells you most of what you need to know. "By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and Government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection with Hepatitis and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. But the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences."

For the victims and their families who have had their lives decimated by ill-health for up to two decades because of contaminated blood, an apology is long overdue and much wanted. But the bottom line, which successive governments have done their utmost to avoid, is the need for compensation.

The Archer inquiry does not put a figure on the financial support needed by people who have lost their jobs, lost their health insurance and, as has so often been the case, lost the breadwinners in their families. But the report concludes that compensation equivalent to that offered by the Irish Government — which equates to around 400,000 Euros a person — should be a starting point. Money should not be assessed on a means tested basis, but on the facts of each individual’s case, it states. With more than 4,000 people affected by ‘bad blood’, the current Government’s silence is perhaps understandable. The compensation required would be in the billions. But that is no excuse for trying to sweep the issue under the carpet.

To date, the Government has offered no financial support to the inquiry, which has fought hard to keep its cost down to under 75,000 pounds. Lord Morris of Manchester, who first called for an inquiry in December 1988, set up the privately-funded review after successive governments resolutely resisted holding a public inquiry — preferring in-house inquiries at the Department of Health, dealing only with narrowly-defined aspects of the disaster, with no opportunity for afflicted patients, bereaved families, or even former ministers to be heard.

Lord Morris felt an independent inquiry, held in public, was the only way for the views of those most affected to be heard, and the only way to restore public confidence in the safety of blood product supplies. He petitioned potential donors — who gave anonymously — and raised sufficient funds for it to be carried out. The results — a 112-page document summarising two years of evidence — is now with Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary. The inquiry has no legal status compelling action from the Government (it was not even able to compel witnesses to come before it, as shown by the ever-absent Department of Health).

But the haemophilia community, and the wider public, are rightly concerned about how the most horrific of NHS treatment errors is addressed, the chapter closed, the lessons learnt. And to do this requires — demands — a positive, forthright and active government response.


Australia: 5000 left without cancer treatment in NSW

Cancer patients are being denied lifesaving treatment, with New South Wales and Federal Government "buck-passing" blamed for leaving up to 5000 people a year without radiotherapy. In some parts of the state, dying patients are being forced to pay up to $8000 through private radiotheraphy units or wait up to two months for a public facility because the State Government is underinvesting in equipment and services. At the same time the Federal Government is permitting private units to have a monopoly in rural areas.

Cancer Council NSW has slammed the governments for placing patients' lives at risk. Today it will hold a call-in for patients to describe their horror stories so a database can be compiled to lobby governments. Chief executive officer Dr Andrew Penman said some people were foregoing the treatment because it was too costly. "There is a Medicare coverage but it doesn't pay the full cost if you go private," he said. "Some patients are waiting longer than the 21 days recommended to start treatment. Radiotherapy prolongs survival." In St George, in Sydney's southeast, patients are sometimes waiting up to eight weeks.

Radiotherapy is used on various cancer patients who doctors believe have a great chance of recovery. It also reduces the size of tumours that need to be operated on and lowers the chance of tumours recurring after being removed. NSW only has 42 machines to treat the 19,000 cases a year that require radiotherapy, but the Cancer Council claims at least 5000 are missing out because of lack of machines and exorbitant private fees. The Cancer Council wants the Government to provide at least 20 radiotherapy units by 2011.

On the Central Coast, only one private radiotherapy unit is available. If patients, such as mother-of-four Elizabeth Bratby, can't afford the up-front cost, they are either forced to travel to Newcastle or Royal North Shore for treatment. Ms Bratby was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, but three years later tumours returned in her pelvis. Told her treatment would cost $8000, the now 53-year-old was forced to beg the doctors to waive the fees. "I could not have paid it," she said. "I know of an elderly woman who needed radiotherapy but just didn't do it because she couldn't pay and she couldn't afford to travel the long distances."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said other areas including Wagga Wagga were also badly hit by the funding shortfall. "It is heartbreaking for patients to be told the radiotherapy treatment they need is either inaccessible or unaffordable," she said. The Cancer Council's radiotherapy call-in will be held all this month.


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