HL Deb 19 January 1995 vol 560 cc749-51

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that blood donated in the United Kingdom and surplus to the needs of the National Health Service is used as a free component of United Kingdom overseas aid.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

No, my Lords, because we do not collect surplus blood.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is the Minister able to give an assurance that blood freely given in this country will not become the subject of some kind of market but will be disposed of at least as freely as it has been given?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I can categorically give that assurance. There is absolutely no question of privatising the blood service and no question of selling blood, although we do sell some blood products which are surplus to our requirements. But just as we cannot run a car without petrol so we cannot run a health service without blood. Therefore, all the blood that is given through voluntary donations we need to use.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of reports in serious newspapers and on the BBC that blood is being sold abroad? That blood is from donors who gave it freely and thought it would contribute to the National Health Service. It is British blood and, according to reports, it is being sold overseas for money.

Baroness Cumberlege

; My Lords, those reports are inaccurate. The National Blood Service immediately approached the newspaper concerned but unfortunately it chose not to correct the statement it had made. There is no question whatever that this nation would sell blood.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when, some years ago, I was a member of the Greater London Council, one of my colleagues went to prison and served a sentence for attempting to sell blood commercially outside this country?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am sure that the prosecution was fully supported throughout the country.

Lord Rea

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, at least until now, our National Blood Transfusion Service—which relies totally on voluntary blood donations—has been an outstanding success? We can be proud of its success in the international community. Does the noble Baroness realise that hints—even if they are not true—of the initiation of market principles and commercialisation and now the new economies proposed by the new National Blood Authority might well deter many current donors and perhaps make it more difficult to recruit new donors?

Perhaps more to the point of the original Question, can the Minister say how far techniques for freezing whole blood have been developed? That would make it much easier to handle fluctuating supplies and fluctuating needs for blood of different groups rather than having to process it into blood products.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I endorse the noble Lord's comments about blood donors. We are enormously grateful to the 1.8 million people who freely give blood every year, to the benefit of others. I am not sure about the freezing of blood. I know that there is a story in the newspaper today about using crocodile blood which, I think, has some interesting connotations.

There is no question of the reorganisation of the National Blood Service deterring donors. The whole purpose is to make it easier for donors to give blood. The reorganisation is concerned with the treatment and delivery of blood, which we know can be improved. Indeed, we anticipate saving £10 million.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, my noble friend will recollect that last year there was said to be a shortage of blood. Does she recognise that the willingness to give blood is often outweighed by the inconvenience of doing so? Would she regard it as not too wide of the Question to consider whether we could have facilities for giving blood in the Palace of Westminster?

Baroness Cumberlege

; My Lords, I am absolutely sure that it would be very high quality blood, if not totally blue blood!

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, are we to understand from the noble Baroness that, on being approached by the Government and asked to publish the Government's correction, a newspaper declined to do so? If that be the case, will she name the newspaper?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, it was the newspaper called Today.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that much mischief is done by reporting which is wholly inaccurate? Will the Government take steps to make an example of the newspaper?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we have a very interesting relationship with the newspaper industry. I think that we did all we could; in the end, we have to consider issues such as the freedom of the press. That is a very important freedom.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is intended to reduce the number of centres at which people can donate blood? If so, can she indicate how that will make it possible for people to continue giving blood in the way they have done? Surely, it will deter some blood donors.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, at the moment there are 15 centres in the country. The proposal is to concentrate on 10 centres. Very few people—in fact, only 5 per cent. of all blood donors—give blood in the centres. What we are trying to do is to make local facilities better, more convenient and more conducive for people to give blood, using mobile centres and, as we have in the past, local facilities which are accessible to people and convenient for them.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of people who feel that their blood donor centre will be done away with have said that they will not give blood? Is it being made clear to them that they can continue to give blood in the towns where they live?

Baroness Cumberlege

Yes, my Lords. The chairman of the National Blood Authority is putting a great deal of personal effort into this, talking to countless donors up and down the country, especially those where the centres will be rationalised.

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