Health chief's cover-up of CDJ blood donor
By DENNIS RICE and JO KNOWSLEY, Mail on Sunday
Last updated at 13:47 15 May 2005
The father of the youngest victim of Britain's worst CJD outbreak has accused medical authorities of engaging in a seven-year conspiracy to hide the fact that his son had been a blood donor.
Matthew Middleton, 18, died from the human form of mad cow disease (vCJD) in March 1997 - one of four victims in a cluster of cases in the Yorkshire village of Armthorpe.
What the public never learned was that the Edinburgh-based National vCJD Unit knew before the 18-year-old's death that he was a registered blood donor.
His father John told doctors as his son lay in coma but was ordered to keep quiet so that Government inspectors could investigate the cluster without scaring the public.
A year later, Mr Middleton learned the authorities had traced at least seven people who had been given Matthew's blood - but that none of them would be told.
For seven years those known to have received Matthew's tainted blood were kept in the dark until scientists decided last September that they should be informed.
They are among 14 people in Britain known to have received vCJD-tainted blood. They have not been identified but all have been offered counselling. The decision to contact them came only after the first case emerged of a patient possibly dying from vCJD contracted through a blood transfusion.
Last night Mr Middleton, 50, said: "I have carried this awful secret around for seven years, knowing my son might have unwittingly sentenced these poor people to death.
"I never agreed with their policy but was forced to go along with it. I was told that if I went public it would spark panic across the country.
"To hear that none of the people they had traced was going to be warned was absolutely devastating and not what Matthew would have wanted. It was as though these people weren't humans at all.
I want to see a public inquiry launched into this now - it is the least these seven people deserve. I also want to know how they can also be so sure that only seven people were affected."
Thousands of people can be infected by one contaminated blood product - depending on the way it is used and dispersed. Blood products are used in countless procedures: injections to rehydrate burn victims, for example, can contain elements derived from blood.
Following its change in policy, the Department of Health last year wrote to more than 6,000 patients who may have received vCJD-contaminated blood.
The cover-up is confirmed in the minutes of a meeting of the Doncaster Health Authority on November 9, 2001. They reveal how the National vCJD Unit kept a secret log of people given blood from Matthew and other donors infected with vCJD.
The minutes, obtained by Jim Oldfield, editor of the Armthorpe Community Newsletter, say the recipients would not be informed and explain that if they later donated blood, it was to be thrown away. At this meeting was Doctor Ken Allen, the consultant in Communicable Disease Control in Doncaster, who led the Armthorpe CJD investigation.
Dr Allen, who is now retired, said: "It was national policy to not pass on information to blood recipients, so our hands were tied. You have to consider what impact it might have had on these people. It could have ruined their lives."
So-called "new-variant" Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease emerged in Britain in 1995, and is attributed to contaminated meat products. There are 146 known or probable deaths from vCJD, and five people live with the disease.
Last night a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it was "satisfied" with the Armthorpe inquiry, adding:
"Throughout our handling of the issue of vCJD we have adopted a highly precautionary approach based on the best available expert opinion, taking a series of steps as new evidence became available to maximise the protection of the public."