Government stalls blood victims again

EFFORTS by haemophiliacs to sue the drug companies responsible for infecting them with contaminated blood were yesterday stalled once more by the Government.

A meeting yesterday between the Irish Haemophilia Society (IHS) and the Health Minister ended in disappointment when the Government again deferred a decision on an offer from a US law firm to take on the drug companies on behalf of Irish haemophiliacs.

IHS chairperson, Michael Davenport, said members would be devastated.

“I know a number of members who will be very disappointed. There seems to be no political will to pursue this issue through the courts,” he said.

Last year, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Berstein offered to take a case against the companies who supplied contaminated products to Irish health authorities on a no foal, no fee basis. The case would hinge on the argument the companies knowingly took plasma from high risk donors including prisoners and drug-addicts.

More than 100 haemophiliacs were infected with HIV and more than 200 with hepatitis C through contaminated blood products supplied by the then Blood Transfusion Service Board. Close to 100 have died as a result.

Mr Davenport said despite the offer being on the table for a year, the Government has now said a decision on whether to take it up is unlikely before the end of the year.

Defending the delay, Health Minister Micheál Martin described the offer as “unsolicited advice”. He said it raised “unique and complex legal questions”.

“Having reviewed domestic and international law, the State has now instructed a US law firm to advise it on the feasibility of instituting proceedings against suitable defendants,” he said.

“This advice will be independent and will be based upon lengthy instructions. It is anticipated that final advices will be available to the Government in a relatively short course.”

Mr Martin said he could not elaborate further because he was constrained by possible future litigation. He was satisfied “that I have taken every appropriate step to ensure that the government and the IHS have the best quality advice available before embarking on any foreign litigation”.

The minister also gave a commitment that the National Haemophilia Council - designed to care for the future health needs of haemophiliacs - would be on a statutory footing in the next week or two. He also gave assurances on funding and promised a proposal for the Government to pay the loading on haemophiliacs’s insurance premiums would be looked at in September.

Separately, the minister met with the North Eastern Health Board to discuss last week’s report into the death of nine-year-old Frances Sheridan, who died of complications from surgery at Cavan General Hospital after being misdiagnosed as having a tummy bug.

A spokesman said health board CEO Paul Robinson and two of his officials had briefed Mr Martin on progress in implementing new procedures to safeguard patients at the hospital. He added the Minister was waiting for an evaluation of the report from the Department’s chief medical officer.

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