HC Deb 26 January 1982 vol 16 cc338-9W
Mr. Eggar

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what action he has taken about imported first-aid dressings that have been contaminated; and whether he will make a statement.

Dr. Vaughan

I am placing in the Library a full account of the sequence of events, the results of the investigations to date, and the actions which have been taken.

The Department issued public warnings on 14 and 23 December about certain first-aid dressings labelled sterile and nothing has come to light since then which requires any further warning. We are advised that the risk of serious infection arising from the use of a non-sterile first-aid dressing is relatively slight; but it is clearly unacceptable that dressings which are not sterile should be sold as sterile.

The importers of dressings which have been found to be contaminated agreed to cease distribution of suspect products and warned their customers about them some weeks ago. I also understand that the Government of India have decided not to permit the export of surgical dressings from India unless they are labelled 'non-sterile' or 'to be sterilised before use'. This is a helpful step.

I have, however, instructed officials to arrange for discussions with the Local Authority Co-ordinating Body on Trading Standards about what further action can be taken under the Trade Descriptions Act. In addition the Health and Safety Executive will be advising employers that sterile dressings required in first-aid containers at places of work should be obtained only from manufacturers approved by the Department's inspectors.

My right hon. Friend announced on 23 December that Dr. Whitehead, director of the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Department's consultant adviser in Microbiology, had agreed to review the problem. He will carry out an inquiry into the contamination of sterile dressings and will examine the extent and severity of any hazard posed by their use. This inquiry is proceeding urgently but will inevitably take some time. We hope to receive the report within three months.