Call for government to act over appalling NHS contaminated blood saga
PUBLISHED: 09:19 04 July 2015
Our investigation has highlighted the many ways victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal continue to be failed decades on. Now investigations editor David Powles and journalist Emma Youle outline the improvements badly needed
You would be hard pressed to find a group of people as repeatedly let down by the state as the thousands affected by the contaminated blood scandal.
This failure runs deep and is a scar on the good work that those tasked with serving the public so often do.
Go back to the start and a series of ill-judged decisions have ultimately set so many families down a path that no-one would want to contend with.
One of those is father Bruce Norval, who was living in Kilburn in 1990 when was told he had been infected with hepatitis C (hep C) through blood factor treatment for haemophilia, a blood clotting disorder.
The government’s response
The Times put these questions to the Department of Health.
On the many failings perceived by victims:
“We understand how distressing this scandal has been for those affected and their families, and the prime minister has apologised to all those that were infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C through treatment with NHS-supplied blood or blood products before 1991.
Over the last two decades schemes have been set up to provide financial assistance to these people and, to date, over £365million has been paid out in the UK.
In recent years, the Department of Health has put over £70million more into the system (over the course of the last parliament) targeting resources at those in need.
However, we know that many people remain unhappy with the current support, and we are working on what can be done to improve it.
The PM has announced an additional one-off payment of £25million to help those who have been affected, and we are considering how to use it.”
Will there be a public inquiry in this country into the scandal?
“There will not be another public inquiry following the independent public inquiry chaired by Lord Penrose in March 2015 because it would delay victims and their families in getting the support they need.”
Why have there been no prosecutions sought?
“With the exceptions of cases where compensation has been paid out under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, no liability or fault has ever been proven or accepted in a court of law.
Successive governments have, however, voluntarily established financial assistance schemes for those affected.”
At 12-years-old he had the liver of someone drinking a bottle of whiskey a day and he has lived with the chronic impact of liver disease ever since.
“This all happened because some paternalistic doctor made a decision about my life before I was out of nappies,” said Bruce. “That really angers me.
“The lesson from us is that the paternalistic decision making process is totally and completely unacceptable and should never happen again.”
For whatever reason, be it to save cash or with good intentions at heart, the decision of the British government to import and use unchecked blood and blood products in the UK right up until 1991 was a terrible mistake.
But for those products to continue to be used for several years after the potential dangers were known is nothing short of neglect.
If, since then, all had been done to make the lives of those poisoned as simple and pain-free as possible, this would probably be a matter that could be consigned to the history books. But this stain lingers.
“The government has done nothing but allow the information most convenient to their purse to be the information that dominates, despite its lack of credibility,” said Bruce.
“I think the government has a lot to answer for.”
While it may be too late for criminal prosecution to be brought against anyone found to have been involved in those early, ill-fated decisions, it is entirely understandable that campaigners feel bitter at a lack of accountability.
We welcome the government’s pledge to make historical documents relating to the issue available to public scrutiny through the National Archive.
However, all that may do is add to campaigners sense of injustice, should they read of the many failings that have impacted on their lives, but not feel that anything can be done.
There has been an All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into the financial support provided to victims.
But we support the campaign group’s calls for a public inquiry into the events that led to the tragedies to ensure lessons are learned.
The least these people deserve is to have their day in a public forum.
But what good is such an inquiry if sufferers and their families have to continue to live in poverty because illnesses caused by government mistakes make them unable to provide for themselves?
In the Republic of Ireland, victims received an acceptable lump sum payment for their agony and pain, along with regular support. That should happen in England too.
It is estimated such a payout would cost £1.5billion, roughly the same compensation given to victims of the Equitable Life financial scandal.
On top of this, consistent levels of financial support need to be given to hep C sufferers, no matter how serious the government believes their health problems to be.
That also needs to apply to widows and families.
And with the government’s own figures suggesting the true scale of this problem is not yet known, an awareness campaign to spread knowledge is essential, as is adoption of one of the recommendations of Scotland’s Penrose Inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal - that anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991 should be tested for hep C if they have not already done so.
It is too late for the devastation caused by this scandal to be undone, for the many living with debilitating HIV and hepatitis C viruses, contracted from contaminated blood, to have their health restored.
But, with a new government in place, it’s about time some of the damage is at least repaired.
See next week’s Times: How safe are blood banks today?
Show your support:
Campaign group Tainted Blood are urging people to write to their local MP to make sure they are aware of the issues sufferers face so they can push the issue in the Commons.
Meanwhile, a petition has been set up calling for ‘a public inquiry to force the government to tell the truth’.
That can be signed at you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/nhs-contaminated-blood-scandal