Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Hepatitis C Screening Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

37 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health the degree to which the requirements of women suffering from hepatitis C arising from Anti D treatment have been met to date with particular reference to treatment, information and advice for themselves and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1166/94]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

46 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Health the total number of women and children respectively who have tested positive for the hepatitis C virus arising from Anti D immunoglobin; the advice or counselling that has been made available in such cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [754/94]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

84 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Health the total number of women who have tested positive in the recent hepatitis C screening programme; the number who are currently in receipt of treatment; the nature of their treatment; the success of this treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [991/94]

Richard Bruton

Question:

88 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health if he will give an assurance to Dáil Éireann that women with blood disorders linked to the Anti D injection will receive all related treatment free of charge and will be awarded appropriate compensation for their ill-effects; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that such patients are not covered for any treatment under their VHI. [15/94]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

111 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Health the number of members of families of women who have tested positive in the hepatitis C screening programme; the number of such persons currently undergoing treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [992/94]

Michael Creed

Question:

115 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Health the degree to which his Department is prepared to assist the Positive Action Group in co-ordinating their efforts to advise and support women who have tested positive following the Anti d screening programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [993/94]

Helen Keogh

Question:

149 Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Health the financial allocation, if any, that has been made by him to the health boards and the blood transfusion service to cover the costs of travelling expenses, childminding and loss of income to women who have tested positive for hepatitis C; the way in which he will meet these expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [922/94]

Frances Fitzgerald

Question:

231 Ms F. Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Health the number of women who have been diagnosed as having hepatitis C arising from the Anti D immunoglobulin treatment from 1970 to 1994; the ongoing and long term support available to such women; the financial implications for these women; and the supports that will be available to them and their families in the future. [263/94]

Liz O'Donnell

Question:

240 Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health the level of liver damage found in 424 Irish women who have tested positive for hepatitis C; the breakdown in the categories of mild, moderate and severe; the number of women now on interferon or who have been advised that they will require it in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1076/94]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 37, 46, 84, 88, 111, 115, 149, 231 and 240 together.

I have been informed by the Blood Transfusion Service Board, that the number of persons who have been screened for hepatitis C under the national blood screening programme is 55,212 as at 10 October 1994. The number who have tested positive for hepatitis C antibodies as at 10 October 1994 is 1,013; 438 of these women are positive for the hepatitis C virus.

The Blood Transfusion Service Board has advised me that as at 10 October 1994, 1,222 children and 346 partners have been screened for hepatitis C. Up to 10 October 1994, ten children and three partners have tested positive for the hepatitis C antibodies. Two of these children have tested positive for the hepatitis C virus. Further investigations are underway in all these cases.

A comprehensive counselling programme involving medical consultants at the Blood Transfusion Service Board and general practitioners throughout the country was put in place by the Blood Transfusion Service Board for persons who received the Anti D product at the outset. Persons who tested positive for hepatitis C under the national blood screening programme were invited to Blood Transfusion Service Board consultations which took place in Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Cork, Limerick and Galway. To support the Blood Transfusion Service Board counselling services, a counselling programme was also structured by the Blood Transfusion Service Board with the Well Woman Centre in Dublin. Large group information meetings on hepatitis C were also held in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Tralee, Limerick, Galway, Castlebar, Sligo, Monaghan, Mullingar and Donegal. Counselling in small groups, up to 20, is also being undertaken by the Blood Tranfusion Service Board. Individual psychological support is also available where this is considered necessary.

A limited ex gratia expenses scheme is being operated by the Blood Transfusion Service Board to ensure that all Anti D recipients are in a position to avail of the screening, counselling and treatment services.

Treatment for those who test positive for hepatitis C is being provided at the following six designated hospitals: St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin; Beaumont Hospital, Dublin; Mater Hospital, Dublin; St. James's Hospital, Dublin; Cork Regional Hospital; University College Hospital, Galway.

A total of 421 women have undergone a liver biopsy. The hospitals do not have the patients' biopsy results broken down into the specific categories. The number of women who have been prescribed interferon is 27. I am not aware of any child or partner for whom treatment has been prescribed. I have been advised by the hospitals that the treatment being provided is being monitored and that the outcome of the treatment will be assessed in due course.

Treatment, including prescribed medication, is being provided by the public hospital service free of charge. As already announced in May last the VHI is providing cover towards the costs of private hospital accommodation and consultants' charges for members who test positive for hepatitis C arising from the national blood screening programme.

I have met with a deputation from Positive Action on two occasions and I have approved a grant of £5,000 from the Health allocation of national lottery funds which has issued to Positive Action. The funding required to support the services put in place for those who have tested positive for hepatitis C is being met by the Exchequer.

No consideration has yet been given to the question of compensation. I am awaiting the report of the expert group which I established in March last.

The services put in place for persons who have tested positive for hepatitis C under the national blood screening programme will be available for as long as they are required. The needs of those who have been diagnosed as positive for hepatitis C will be monitored and reassessed on an ongoing basis to ensure that the necessary support services are provided to meet their needs.

Does the Minister agree, in view of the fact that several months have passed since this problem was first detected, that the information made available to the women concerned has not been as extensive as it should be and has been slow in coming? Is it not a sad reflection on the information services that these women had to invite an international expert to advise them at a seminar in this country? Does the Minister agree that much of the information they were able to elicit from this expert contrasted starkly with some of the information provided by his own Department?

I do not accept that the information is inadequate.

It is grossly inadequate.

Most independent observers have been complimentary in terms of our efficiency in screening in excess of 55,000 women under the programme in the timeframe I have outlined and in some cases triple screening not only for the antibodies but also for the virus. A comprehensive national screening programme, a comprehensive counselling service and a treatment programme have been put in place. I supported the establishment of Positive Action as a support group for those who have tested positive for the hepatitis C virus. As these people are in need of support and counselling I met Positive Action on two occasions and have provided it with an allocation from national lottery funds to meet its day-to-day expenses such as telephone costs and postage. I have established clear lines of communication so that the knowledge available to me will be available to it. It is understood by everybody that problems will arise. I am trying to ensure that the best possible service will be available to the women concerned and their families who have discovered they have the virus.

I will call Deputy Durkan. Unfortunately we have exhausted our time and I will not be able to accommodate other Deputies, as I would dearly wish.

Let me assure you, Sir, that I did not waste too much time asking questions. The Minister took ten minutes to reply to them. It may be acceptable that in the long run screening was carried out efficiently but will the Minister accept that afterwards the degree of support and information made available to the women was deplorable? Positive Action was given a grant of £5,000 but surely the Minister should have evaluated the level of expense incurred by them, and in line with previous commitments given on the costs associated with the problem would he not have found it in his heart to give them more?

On the question of out-of-pocket expenses, the Minister's view is vastly different from those who have been affected by hepatitis C. He might address the question of Interferon treatment. It was clearly indicated by international experts that Interferon is not the solution in a specific number of cases but this information was not made available by the Department of Health or the Blood Transfusion Service Board until experts arrived on the scene.

I made it clear all along that there is no definitive view on the treatment of people who have developed serious liver problems. I can quote a number of experts. One of the first things I did was to bring all the national experts together to talk to me about it and I will be led by the best national and international views on it. I understand that others can call in any experts they like but I will give the House the information available to me from the best national and international experts.

On the question of providing out-of-pocket expenses, I invite the Deputy to give me the case details of people who have been discommoded or have not been able to avail of counselling or support services——

——and I will deal with them directly.