Multi-class disease action gathers strength

Roger Pearson previews the action over Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease

Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease, dubbed the human equivalent of 'mad cow' disease, will be the subject of a major High Court class action next year.

The Health Department and the Medical Research Council are to be sued over deaths said to have resulted from it.

The claims will centre on allegations that growth hormones unlawfully derived from the pituitary glands of dead people caused the disease.

The hearing is due to start after the Easter vacation next year and is expected to last at least a term.

However, if they succeed there are 1,900 more potential claimants who could have been infected in the same way, who may fall victim to the disease in the future.

And success in next year's action could be vital for their claims to proceed.

Declarations are also being sought over the legality of the way medical authorities handled the process.

It will be claimed that the majority of pituitary glands used to obtain the hormone were removed without any steps in place to gain consent for them to be put to such use.

And writs allege that in the bulk of cases there had been no consent from the donor prior to death or from their relatives after death. In these circumstances it is alleged that in most of the cases the glands were removed unlawfully.

Writs in the action, which have been issued by a number of solicitors, involve victims and potential victims from all over the country.

The solicitors co-ordinating the action are David Body, of Irwin Mitchell of Sheffield, and Peter Llewellyn, of Swansea-based firm The Smith Llewellyn Partnership.