Socialist Worker

Angry victims walk out of Penrose inquiry 'whitewash' into medical disaster

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2447

Thousands of people were treated with contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s

Thousands of people were treated with contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s (Pic: Tim Sanders)

Campaigners branded a public inquiry into the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS a “whitewash” last week. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, 5,000 haemophilia patients and others were treated with HIV and Hepatitis C contaminated blood products and not informed for years. 

The Penrose Inquiry was set up in 2008 to investigate the contaminated blood disaster in Scotland. 

It has made only one recommendation—that everyone in Scotland who had a blood transfusion before September 1991 is to be offered a test for Hepatitis C.

Victims and their supporters walked out of the launch of the inquiry’s report and burned copies. 

As many as 2,000 people have died over the last 30 to 40 years and thousands more are still fighting for justice. David Cameron offered an apology to the victims.

The Tainted Blood campaign responded to the inquiry’s final report.  

It said, “We expected more than a 30 second apology from the prime minister, and an ‘in passing’ agreement from Labour leader Ed Miliband to follow up what is already a half-hearted single recommendation from the Penrose report.”

The British government covered up the scandal and never admitted any responsibility. 

The World Health Organisation warned it not to import blood products from the US. But it carried on regardless.


The US paid prisoners to give blood. Studies had shown as early as 1958 that prisoners were one of the highest risk groups of people living with HIV and Hepatitis C.

Medical Inspectorate reports show that the blood transfusion labs were more like abattoirs and were condemned under heath and safety laws.

One victim, the late Gary Kelly, wrote in Socialist Worker a year before the Penrose Inquiry began. 

He said, “The government is guilty of murder by not taking the precautions that it was warned it needed to take.

“Our lives have been destroyed and that of our families, by a government who put commercial interests before our health.”

Rather than pay £5 per blood screening kit, the Department of Health preferred to invent its own test.

This did not work, so the introduction of testing was delayed. And Scottish ministers were not informed.

The inquiry revealed that blood donated by prisoners was still being collected in Scotland as late as 1984 but concluded only that this was “unfortunate”.

A close friend of Gary spoke to Socialist Worker about his struggle for justice. 

He said, “Proper counselling and financial support were replaced by anger, depression, anxiety and smoking, culminating in the heart problems that killed him.

“He became distraught at the number of his group who were dying before they won some degree of recognition. Too many victims have died since. The time for justice is now.”

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Tue 31 Mar 2015, 15:59 BST
Issue No. 2447
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