Infected blood inquiry: Doctor’s 1983 Aids statement ‘unfortunate’

An article with the head of Wales’ blood transfusion service said there was no link between transfusions and Aids, just months before some were told not to donate, an inquiry has heard.

Dr Anthony Napier told the Infected Blood Inquiry his statement was “unfortunate” with hindsight.

His comments were published in the Western Mail on 3 May 1983.

He said links between transfusions and Aids, which had not yet been proven, would have caused anxiety to patients.

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“I think professionally we would’ve had to make the assumption that if it was a virus-induced illness, then it could be transmitted by transfusion.”

Dr Napier was medical director of the Welsh Regional Blood Transfusion Service from 1977 to 1998.

In the article, headlined “blood virus assurance”, he called newspapers who had alleged a connection between blood transfusions and Aids “irresponsible”.

He was also quoted as saying: “The disease certainly exists but there is no proof of how it is transmitted.”

The article was published a few days after the first confirmed diagnosis of Aids at University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, had been made public.

In the article, Dr Napier said the patient would have been treated with a variety of blood products, including those from America.

Up to 30,000 people in the UK were given blood infected with HIV and hepatitis C through blood products in the 1980s, and thousands died.

When questioned about the article at the inquiry, Dr Napier said there was “considerable uncertainty” about the cause of Aids at the time, and conclusions about the disease changed “rapidly” throughout 1983 and 1984.

He said: “The logic would be if one understood that Aids was a virus-induced illness, then one would assume there would be a possibility it would be transmitted via transfusion, but, as I said, the thinking was changing quite rapidly through 1983.

“I think professionally we would’ve had to make the assumption that if it was a virus-induced illness, then it could be transmitted by transfusion.”

Leaflets to donors

About two weeks after the article was published, a meeting of regional transfusion directors (RTDs) in the UK, discussed Aids for the first time.

The meeting discussed questioning donors at sessions and Dr Napier said evidence that the virus could be transmitted by blood was “becoming increasingly convincing” at this time.

It was recommended a leaflet was then produced within six weeks advising blood donations about Aids.

When published, the leaflet asked homosexual men who have had many different partners, drug addicts and sexual contacts of people with Aids did not donate.

A letter of July 1983 said most RTDs felt approaching donors should be “at the lowest key possible” and were “correspondingly reluctant” to hand the leaflet to every donor at a session.

By late 1984, another document said all RTDs were “angered” about the lack of information and that a new leaflet would be issued in February 1985.

The leaflet issued in February 1985 said practicing homosexual and bisexual men must not donate and a revised leaflet in September 1985 said homosexual and bisexual men were most at risk.

Dr Napier said, regarding the language in the first leaflet, he thought there was concern to balance “eliminating the risk from the blood supply and not achieving unfairly discriminatory”.

Ahead of the session, the inquiry’s chairman, Dr Brian Langstaff, said it was “fitting” evidence about Aids was being heard on 1 December, which marks World Aids Day.

The inquiry continues.

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