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Monday, 11 August 2003
Page: 13098

Senator Hutchins asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 26 March 2003:

(1) How much money has been spent over the past decade on programs that trace recipients of blood or blood products contaminated by hepatitis C.

(2) How many recipients of hepatitis C contaminated blood have been directly notified by trace-back programs so far.

(3) Is the Minister aware that: (a) significant numbers of mothers were transfused with contaminated blood during childbirth in the past two decades and that, tragically, some of these women have infected their children; (b) money has been offered by the Australian Red Cross Blood Service in exchange for them signing confidentiality agreements; and (c) these confidentiality agreements preclude either them or their infected child from openly discussing the circumstances surrounding their infections.

(4) Has the Commonwealth provided funding for compensation payments which require that infected mothers sign secrecy agreements.

(5) If the Commonwealth has provided funding for such payments: (a) how much funding has been provided; (b) how many individuals have received payments from the Commonwealth on the condition that they sign a confidentiality agreement; (c) in what years did these payments occur; and (d) how many payments were made in each year.

(6) Has the department, or any other Commonwealth Government agency, conducted any studies into the number of mothers who were infected with hepatitis C through blood administered during childbirth.

(7) If such studies have been conducted: (a) when did each study occur; (b) which agency conducted each study; and (c) in each study, how many mothers were found to have contracted hepatitis C through blood administered during childbirth.

(8) (a) Is the Minister aware that: (i) American blood banks used a form of blood donor screening for hepatitis C in the 1980s known as `surrogate testing' and that the American Food and Drug Administration recommended that this kind of testing reduced hepatitis C in blood by as much as 50 per cent, and (ii) instead of following the American lead on screening methods, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service chose instead to study the efficacy of surrogate testing in 1986 in a study which took 4 years; and (b) will the Minister make the findings of this study publicly available.

(9) Will the department call for an independent investigation into claims that thousands of hepatitis C infections through blood transfusions could have been prevented had the Australian Red Cross Blood Service used surrogate testing for hepatitis C in the 1980s.

(10) Has the Australian Red Cross Blood Service or the Commonwealth of Australia made compensation payments to people infected between the years 1986 and 1990; if so, is this because the Australian Red Cross Blood Service failed to use available screening methods for hepatitis C at this time.

(11) Has Professor Barraclough completed his independent review into the possible contamination of blood products.

(12) Has Professor Barraclough presented his findings and report to the Minister.

(13) When did Professor Barraclough present his findings to the Minister.

(14) When does the Minister intend to make the report public.

Senator Patterson (Minister for Health and Ageing) —The answer to question 3(b) was provided as follows:

I am aware that settlements are offered to some claimants in relation to hepatitis C from blood in settlement schemes in different States and Territories that require the signing of confidentiality agreements.

Further to the response published in Hansard of Thursday, 15 May 2003, the Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following clarification, to be added at the end of the current answer to clarify matters that have been misinterpreted in the press:

The additional wording is as follows: `These settlements are not funded by the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS). Whilst the ARCBS (or its representative) is a party to some of the settlements, the costs in each jurisdiction are met jointly by the Commonwealth and the State or Territory involved under established indemnity arrangements.'