Letter to Anna Soubry MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health

Letter to Anna Soubry MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health

Anna Soubry MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Department of Health

Richmond House

79 Whitehall

London SW1A 2NS

Date: July 30th 2013 

Dear Anna,

I am writing to urge you to halt the acquirement of Plasma Resources UK by Bain Capital or, at the very least, to put in place strict restrictions on the way the company buys and uses blood products in order to safeguard the health of people in the UK.

I am concerned that allowing commercial interests to take control of processed blood products is inherently dangerous, due to the existence of perverse incentives which promote risk. The possible consequences include lower standards for selecting donors, lax infection control, and a greater likelihood of patients being infected with lethal diseases. Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that thousands of people around the world have already been killed by fatal diseases transmitted through plasma due to inappropriate donor selection, collection and processing arrangements. The study notes that “markets in raw plasma and in plasma products systematically and inevitably create perverse incentives contrary to patients’ interests.”[1] I urge you not to allow the health of people in the UK to be put undermined by these incentives.

There have already been many documented examples of serious damage to public health from an insufficiently regulated trade in blood products. As I am sure you will be aware, the 2009 Archer Report into the widespread contamination of blood supplies given to those affected by haemophilia noted that profit-driven companies have an incentive to keep their costs down by being insufficiently discriminatory about donor selection.[2] In Canada, social unrest was triggered when an estimated 30,000 patients caught hepatitis C and 1,000 contracted HIV from transfusions and blood products, thanks to an unregulated, profit-driven market.[3] How can citizens trust a Government they see putting private profit before their own safety?

You will know that former Health Minister, Lord Owen, wrote to the Prime Minister earlier this year, asking him to intervene and halt the sale. Lord Owen’s reason for doing so was that the world plasma supply line has previously been contaminated, and he believes it will “almost certainly continue to be contaminated.”[4] I draw your attention to the words of Lord Robert Winston, who called the previous deaths of haemophiliacs in the UK due to poorly-sourced blood products “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.”[5] I am anxious to avoid any repetition of this disaster.

As well as these extremely serious safety concerns, privatisation will in itself have a damaging impact on the availability of plasma. 41% of current donors said that they would definitely discontinue donating if profits were to be made from their blood, and another 11% said that they might discontinue. [6] The provision of safe plasma is a public service, not a profit-driven exercise in cost cutting, and should remain so.

I am concerned about the nature of the sale itself too. Please will you tell me why the Department of Health has chosen to sell a vital national asset to Bain Capital, with its sordid track record of hostile takeovers and asset stripping? Whilst I remain opposed to any sale of PRUK, surely if a sale does go ahead the Department should favour one of several healthcare firms and at least one company specialising in blood plasma, which also expressed an interest? Nor do I understand why Plasma Resources UK is to be sold for just £90 million, only 80% of its annual turnover. This looks like particularly poor value for money when compared to the damages awarded to people treated with contaminated blood products: the 1999 settlement by the province of Ontario alone cost $1.2 billion.[7]

The purported reason for the sale is to increase investment and innovation, but Bain Capital has an extremely poor record in this area. Will the Government put in place any safeguards at all to ensure a minimum degree of investment, or to prevent asset stripping and staff lay-offs?

The purpose of Plasma Resources UK is to provide a safe, reliable source of plasma for UK residents, not to make a profit for a private American company with an abysmal track record, at the potential cost of the health and lives of UK citizens. My constituents are concerned about its potential sale and I hope your Department will be willing to reconsider.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

 
Caroline Lucas, MP, Brighton Pavilion

[1] Selling our safety to the highest bidder: the privatisation of Plasma Resources UK

[2] Selling our safety to the highest bidder: the privatisation of Plasma Resources UK, http://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/lucy-reynolds/selling-our-safety-to-...

[6] Selling our safety to the highest bidder: the privatisation of Plasma Resources UK

 

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