A ROW broke out last night over whether underfunding was to blame for inferior testing of a blood product given to extremely ill children, leaving them at risk of hepatitis C infection.
Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin has announced that it is offering hepatitis C screening between 50 and 70 former patients who had platelet transfusions to help their blood clot between between October 1991 and April 1994.
Hospital oncologist Finn Breathnach said the product was screened in an in-house laboratory at the time, but the test was less effective than a more powerful one used by the Blood Transfusion Service (BTS).
He said he believed that underfunding was behind the use of the cheaper test, and recalled the massive fundraising efforts that the childrens' hospital has had to undertake over the yearsfor crucial services for such as those for cancer, without assistance from the State.
However, the Department of Health said last night that the hospital had not requested the more sophisticated tests. Dr Breathnach said that the former patients, who are now adults, would be contacted by the hospital, but their risk of being infected was extremely low.
In January, the hospital was alerted to the use of the test when the BTS board said that two adults who had received life-saving treatment at the hospital had tested positive for hepatitis C. Dr Breathnach said the source of their infection had not been established, but the news had led to a trawl of records, prompting the recall of patients as a "precautionary measure".
The platlets were taken from an exclusive pool of donors from the civil service, gardai and other professions who felt concern for the children. The hospital has not asked for any of these donors to be tested. It was decided to target the recipients instead because they were easier to identify.
Asked why the hospital did not test children in the early 1990s, at the height of public concern over the contamination of blood products by the BTS - specifically Anti-D given to mothers - Dr Breathnach he said the patients would have been included in the national screening programme.
"We were included in the look-back of the Irish BTS Board. They invited 300,000 who had transfusions to be tested and the response rate was extremely low, about 4,000," he said.
Families with members who received the platelets as children should contact the hospital on its Freefone information number, 1800 250 450.
The hospital is offering screening and counselling.