Contaminated Blood Inquiry: Evidence described as ‘harrowing and chilling’

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Yesterday marked the beginning of a two year inquiry into what has been described as the “the worst treatment scandal in the history of the NHS”.

In the 1970s and 80s, the NHS imported the blood clotting agent factor VIII from the US due to a struggle to keep up with the demand for treatment in the UK. Many of the US donors were high-risk groups, such as prisoners, who were paid to give their plasma. Some 4,800 people with haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C or HIV from being given contaminated blood plasma and more than 2,000 are thought to have died as a result of this. Others had been exposed through blood transfusions after an operation or childbirth.

The inquiry is set to last for two years, in which Sir Brian Langstaff has pledged to make sure that victims get to tell their stories. One man said that he was devastated when he found out that he had H.I.V and another said he was so sick that plans started to be made for his funeral. Evidence was heard that many were told not tell anyone. Sir Brian Langstaff used words such as “harrowing” and “chilling” to describe the accounts given by witnesses and praised the bravery of those giving evidence.

This inquiry is the first UK-wide public inquiry that can compel witnesses to testify. The purpose of the inquiry is to consider evidence from approximately 2,500 people. Victims and relatives want to know why warnings about the safety of the medicine may have been ignored, why plans to make the UK self-sufficient in blood products were scrapped, and why many documents and patient records appear to have been lost or destroyed.

There have been previous inquiries, however they had no official status and were unable to compel witnesses to testify or require the disclosure of documents. A former health secretary, Andy Burnham stated in the House of Commons in 2017 that a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale” had taken place.

Chantae Clark, Paralegal in Medical Negligence team at Ashtons Legal comments: “The contaminated blood scandal was an unforgivable tragedy that should never have happened. The error of the NHS has cost thousands of lives and is an example of medical negligence on a mass scale that has had devastating and unforgivable consequences. It is hoped that the inquiry will discover the truth of what happened during the 1970s and 80s and provide justice for the victims and their families for the unimaginable pain and suffering caused.”

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