HL Deb 15 June 1998 vol 590 cc116-7WA
The Countess of Mar

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make available to independent researchers biological samples taken from members of the Armed Forces prior to, during and after Operation Granby. [HL1822]

Lord Gilbert

The Defence Medical Services regularly take biological samples from members of the Armed Forces as part of normal healthcare procedures. These are mainly required for diagnostic purposes and are retained for varying lengths of time. There is no central record of samples taken in this way. Such samples could not be used for research purposes without clearance having been obtained from the appropriate ethics committee and prior consent from the patients involved.

The remains of a number of blood samples which were collected from UK Service personnel during the Gulf conflict at various stages of the anti-biological warfare agent vaccination programme are currently stored at CBD, Porton Down. These samples were analysed at the time with the aim of investigating the level of protection conferred by giving anthrax vaccine in combination with pertussis vaccine. The results of the study were given in a paper "Operation GRANBY: The effect of co-administration of the pertussis vaccine on specific antibody titre development to the anthrax vaccine in man" which was declassified and made publicly available on 28 October 1997.

The process of cataloguing what remains of these samples has now been completed. Of the 263 samples which we believe to have been taken for this purpose, the remains of 224 are still preserved. One hundred and sixty-seven individuals have been positively identified as the source of 192 of these samples. A further 30–32 individuals whom we believe to be the source of the other 32 samples have yet to be positively identified. Varying amounts of information regarding sampling dates and vaccination history, including batch numbers in some instances, have also been preserved in respect of some of these samples. However, it is highly unlikely that MoD will be able to obtain further verification of any of this information.

The samples clearly constitute a unique resource. Any proposals for testing them will need to be properly peer-reviewed and to obtain appropriate ethical clearances. Where the identity of the individual from whom the sample was taken is known, this process would also necessarily involve obtaining their permission for testing to proceed.

The quantity of serum remaining from each of these samples varies between 4.5ml and trace levels; however, it is estimated that the majority of samples contain sufficient serum for a small number of tests to be carried out, although this would very much depend upon the tests to be performed and the laboratory procedures used.

MoD is writing to Gulf veterans' representatives, including their solicitors, seeking views on a way ahead regarding the possible testing of the remains of the blood samples.