MPs to warn on working procedures

A report by a commons select committee will warn of 'extremely significant unanswered questions' about the continuing threat, Dentistry has been told.

And it will focus on practises in hospitals and dental surgeries, after allegations that the Department of Health (DH) refused to adopt a new procedure to decontaminate instruments.

A source close to the science and technology committee said: 'We heard a lot of evidence arguing the case for higher spending on research, and the consensus is that this area of inquiry must continue.

'What risks are people running of developing full-blown VCJD?

'There are a number of extremely significant unanswered questions in terms of the number of future cases we can expect to see.

'It’s right that money does need to be spent.

'We can’t ignore the importance of these research programmes, in order to get a better understanding of prion-related diseases.'

The all-party committee heard hard-hitting evidence that patients are not being properly protected, principally from the director of the MRC Prion Unit at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

Professor Collinge, its professor of neurology, said 'several hundred people' have been significantly exposed to the prions blamed for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (VCJD).

He said DH had, more than a decade ago, funded research worth £10m to develop 'novel means to decontaminate surgical instruments'.

The professor’s own unit had received a grant to tackle the 'significant problem' of prions sticking to metal surfaces, including surgical instruments.

The research programme had come up with 'several solutions', including a ‘biological washing powder', which decontaminated metal very effectively at 50°C.

But, the professor said, Government officials and hospitals resisted having to 'change our working procedures', by carrying out a pre-soak.

And he told the committee: 'People are having their lives blighted.

'I think it is disgraceful.'

The source described the inquiry as 'frighteningly complex', which means it is not expected to appear until late July or, possibly, the autumn.

It was widened to look at blood, tissue and organ screening for VCJD, hearing evidence from public health experts and health minister Jane Ellison.

Warnings that patients undergoing routine dental treatments may have been exposed to infection with the human form of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) were first made in the middle of the last decade.

One in 2,000 people in the UK are carriers of the degenerative brain disorder, which first passed from cattle to humans through consumption of contaminated meat products in the late 1980s.

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