THE revelation that some patients were operated on with the same surgical instruments used on a patient who was later diagnosed with the fatal brain disease Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) has raised fresh concerns. CJD was rarely far from the headlines in the mid-to-late 1990s, when a new variant, linked to eating BSE-infected beef, led to a rising number of deaths among young people in the UK.
The risk of infection from that source has long subsided but there are also other forms of CJD. It is a potential threat that needs to be assessed every time a patient undergoes a neurosurgical procedure.
We know the doctors in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, where the patient was operated on, missed this diagnosis but so far the information on what kind of precautions were taken are unclear. Press officers for the HSE and the hospital have referred to different guidelines and policies being followed.The assumption is that the general public should be familiar with their detail.
It is unclear what kind of sterilisation of instruments was being used. The hospital is also refusing to disclose how many patients were involved, although initially it could be between 10 and 20.
The reason put forward for this secrecy is a need for patient confidentiality. But it is difficult to see how this could be breached by the hospital giving basic information and recognising the public's right to know about key issues of safety. Instead of reassurance, this approach could lead to even more public fears.