Father demands justice over NHS contaminated blood scandal that wrecked lives
PUBLISHED: 08:10 25 June 2015 | UPDATED: 14:16 26 June 2015
In this special report, Emma Youle uncovers the scandal of tainted NHS blood that infected thousands with HIV and hep C
A father has spoken of the horrific health scandal that has plagued his life and left him – and thousands more – fighting for justice decades on.
Bruce Norval was one of thousands of haemophiliacs – many now dead – who contracted hepatitis C after being treated with contaminated blood products by the NHS in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Others were also given HIV, which at the time was a death sentence.
The blood products came from high-risk donors, including prisoners and drug addicts, and were given to patients around the world. But the British government continued to import them from America even after being warned they carried a risk on infection.
Why did this carry on?
During the 1970s and ’80s, advances in medical technology increased the need for blood donations and companies in the United States in particular quickly found a way to make money from the shortage.
But there was no regulation in place to monitor safe ways to extract blood.
Clinics were set up across the US and people were paid to donate.
One Canadian company took blood from Russian corpses, while inmates at prisons were even paid to donate once or twice a week, again with no checks on whether they were carrying a disease.
The NHS, struggling to cope with the demand, continued to buy the products into the 1980s and up until as recently as 1991, despite the fact evidence suggests they were aware of the dangers some 15 years earlier.
At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection... and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect... but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”
For the last 25 years Bruce has been at the forefront of the campaign to secure compensation for victims for the havoc wreaked on their lives.
The 50-year-old, who lived in Kilburn, said: “People were making plans based on the idea they had a future.
“What we were robbed of was choice. They treated us like children and robbed us of the choices that every grown adult should have.
“That makes them scum in my view, and that includes the civil service, the doctors and the people that allowed this contaminated blood to get through. They knew they were killing us.”
People with haemophilia, a blood clotting disorder, carried a high risk of infection as they relied on regular injections of blood products to stop bleeding.
After being diagnosed with haemophilia when he was three-years-old, Bruce was treated with blood factor products many thousands of time, and each injection exposed him to a range of viruses.
When the media first started to report the spread of a deadly new virus, now known to be Aids, among haemophiliacs many experienced searing prejudice as people thought they had been infected - even if they had not, as in Bruce’s case.
He was forced out of his hometown in the Scottish Highlands by mental and physical abuse and moved to London in 1985.
Even there Bruce was not safe. In 1987 he was violently attacked by a flatmate who had spotted a letter containing an Aids test result. It was negative.
“The first I knew about it was when I got hit with a baseball bat from behind as I was walking upstairs,” said Bruce “The next thing I remember is one of the other guys in the flat stopping the guy from trying to stab me. I remember the blade being within about a millimetre of my eye.
“I had a testicle kicked up into my abdomen. My face was all black and blue, my ribs were all creased up. I didn’t go for hospital treatment. The state I was in at that point I was ready to jump off a bridge.”
In 1990, while living in Claire Court, off Shoot Up Hill in Kilburn, Bruce finally learned he had contracted hep C from a doctor shouting across a hospital treatment room. The virus lays waste to the liver and can be transmitted sexually. Bruce’s wife was five months pregnant
“I can’t remember how I got back to Kilburn that day,” he said.
“The next thing I’m aware of is about three hours later I’m sitting in a dark kitchen waiting for my wife to come home thinking everything’s over.
“Fortunately she tested negative and the children physically have been unharmed, although mentally that’s dubious.”
Father-of-two Bruce has chronic liver damage and has been unable to work since he was in his 30s. But he has been a fervent campaigner for those affected by the tainted blood scandal, doggedly fighting to expose information and the failings of the authorities to warn haemophiliacs, and others, of the risks.
“I think they lost sight of the patient at best and saw the research,” he said. “I have had doctors turn around to me and say ’What we learned from you saved patients lives in the future’ but they turned my life into a car crash.
“Why have you got to lie about how much damage you did so it’s easy for the government to undermine my right to compensation?”
Some 7,000 people were given contaminated blood products, some through routine transfusions, but only an estimated 6,000 know it and 2,000 people have died.
In terms of death toll, it is the 15th largest peacetime disaster in British history. Despite this a full government-led inquiry has never been held in this country.
See next week’s Brent and Kilburn Times – How victims continue to be failed decades on and the government’s response