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National Blood Service admits contaminated blood transfusion led to rare illness

Infected blood transfusion claim


A former MG Rover worker, who contracted a rare degenerative illness after receiving contaminated blood products during an operation, has won his seven-year legal battle against the National Blood Service for clinical negligence.

64-year-old Alan Best from Catshill in Bromsgrove, became infected with HTLV-1, a variant of HIV, after he received a blood transfusion during surgery at The Nuffield Hospital, Birmingham, for pancreatitis in February 1995.

Contaminated blood transfusion compensation

The National Blood Authority admitted providing contaminated blood after failing to screen it for HTLV-1. The High Court in Birmingham has now awarded Mr Best a settlement of £750,000.

Mr Best contracted HTLV Associated Myelopathy, a rare blood-transmitted disease, which affects the central nervous system, after receiving five units of blood during the seven and a half hour operation to remove his pancreas. It was subsequently discovered that a unit of blood administered to him, was contaminated with HTLV-1.

Mr Best, a qualified toolmaker, had been employed at Longbridge since leaving school and had more than 40 years service with the company, until the illness forced him to give up work in March 2000. He explained: "I enjoyed my job and had been really keen to return to work after my pancreas operation. Although I had lost more than four stone in weight and had been left very weak, I thought it was just a matter of time before I got back to normal. Then late in 1996 I started to have unsteadiness in my legs.

HTLV-1 infection

"On one occasion, whilst I was on holiday in Jersey with my wife, Rita, I found that I could not run across the road when I saw a car coming towards me. It felt like I was trying to run on ice. We had no idea what was causing it. Gradually I began to lose sensation in my toes and my walking style altered, but it was a further two years until doctors finally diagnosed HTLV-1."

Mr Best then had to cope with the stress and stigma of the illness which, like HIV, can be caught as a result of drug abuse and sexual activities, as well as infected blood. He says: "It was suggested that I could have caused myself to be infected so I felt exonerated when they finally discovered that the blood transfusion was responsible for my illness. It never crossed my mind that what was wrong with me, might have come from the blood. I thought after all the HIV incidents, that they screened the blood for everything"

Infected blood transfusion legal advice

Timothy Deeming, a solicitor with national law firm, Irwin Mitchell, represented Mr Best in his legal fight. He commented: "At the time, the National Blood Service was not screening donated blood for the presence of HTLV-1, even though the existence of this virus was known prior to the discovery of HIV and there was a test available which would have detected its presence.

"The National Blood Service carries out excellent work in saving many thousands of lives each year and we do acknowledge that it has a difficult assessment in deciding to what extent it should screen blood products. However, on this occasion, we asserted and they have admitted that the decision not to screen blood for this rare but extremely serious disease was the wrong one. As a result of Alan Best's case, the National Blood Authority has since changed its procedures and we understand that all blood donations are now routinely screened for HTLV-1. Sadly, this comes too late for Alan who now has to live with a progressively debilitating illness that has left him reliant on the help of others and could ultimately lead to him becoming wheel-chair bound."