Socialist Worker

Contaminated blood victim says, inquiry must deliver real justice

Glenn Wilkinson is one of thousands of people who were treated with contaminated blood in the 1970s & 1980s – and has spent years campaigning for justice. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the impact of the scandal, what lies behind it – and the kind of inquiry campaigners want to see

Issue No. 2563

Blood donations used in the NHS during the 1970s and 1980s were contaminated

Blood donations used in the NHS during the 1970s and 1980s were contaminated (Pic: Tim Sanders)


I was infected with Hepatitis C in 1983 when I was given a blood product called Factor VIII during a tooth extraction. I was just 19 and I wasn’t aware that I’d been given any blood products at the time. I didn’t find out until 1995.

I’d been for more dental work and they said, you’ve got Hep C. Hep C meant nothing to me – I didn’t know what it was.

Then the doctor started to explain the progression of the virus. He explained I faced a deteriorating liver disease leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer and possible death. I left that room feeling as if my world had just fallen apart.

I didn’t want anybody to know – I didn’t want to worry anybody. But I quickly realised that I could have infected my wife. So she had tests, and my young son at the time was also tested.

Thankfully they weren’t infected. But other people have gone on to infect their partners and some people’s partners have died.

When the doctor explained the progression of the disease and what having  Hep C meant I became deeply worried and concerned.

Then he started questioning me. Have you ever had a tattoo? I said no. Have you been promiscuous? I said no. Have you dabbled with drugs? I said no. Have you travelled to exotic places? I said no.

I asked where else I could have got it from. And he knew. He looked at my notes and said, it was probably here in 1983 when you had Factor VIII.

At the time I was in shock. But I later realised that he was trying to shift the blame. He had my medical notes out. He knew I’d had Factor VIII. He knew full well how I’d been infected. But if I’d said I have dabbled in drugs, he would’ve said I’d infected myself.

This has happened to a lot of people. Some people have been called alcoholics in their medical notes to explain the damage to their livers.

It’s similar to what happened with the Hillsborough disaster. They tried to shift the blame onto fans.

Blame

It’s outrageous that we were infected in the first place. But then to have them try and blame innocent people makes you really angry. And it all happened because of money.

In the early 1980s Britain didn’t have enough blood and blood products. So the Conservatives looked around the world for a cheap source of Factor VIII concentrate. And they bought it from America.

Glenn suffered a reaction to his treatment for Hep C. It was a desperate time he said

Glenn suffered a reaction to his treatment for Hep C. 'It was a desperate time' he said


But blood and blood products there were collected – as they are now – from anybody and everybody, including those who were more likely to have infections.

Then even used a prison in Arkansas as a blood collection unit. It proved so lucrative that it not only paid for the prison – money went back into the state. And the blood and blood products were riddled with infection.

People in the US started going down with HIV and Hep C. The Food and Drug Administration stopped companies like Bayer selling Factor VIII in America. But big pharmaceutical companies had millions of pounds worth of it and they wanted to make money out of it.

So they sold it all around the world – and the Conservatives were only too eager to buy it. They’d been warned multiple times that it wasn’t safe. They never heeded any of the advice and the rest is history.

We’ve lost about two and a half thousand people. That death toll is continuing and will continue for a long time.

The Conservative party were the main players. They know they did it. It’s a major headache for them. And they have resisted an inquiry into this for years because they don’t want the lid taking off this can of worms.

Campaigning made the government announce an inquiry. People like my MP Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North, has been absolutely wonderful.

But we don’t want an inquiry that drags on for years and is chaired by some establishment figure.

Recommendation

The Penrose Inquiry looked at blood contamination in Scotland. It lasted six years and made one recommendation – to test people for Hepatitis C.

A few of us went up to Edinburgh on the day the report was released. Lord Penrose was apparently ill – the only day in six years to my knowledge. He sent his secretary. She started talking about the medical professionals who infected us and how bad they feel about it.

A hushed silence fell across the room. What about how it’s affected us? That hushed silence turned to anger and people started shouting, calling it a whitewash and a disgrace.

Somebody said the best thing you can do with that report is take it out and burn it. So that’s exactly what I did. The worry is that we’ll have the same thing happen again.

The government has said it has released all the documents that it feels are “relevant”. We feel they’re withholding information because it’s commercially sensitive or embarrassing to the government.

Any inquiry should be totally transparent. There’s also the time factor. There are a lot of damaged people who are dying. They don’t have the time to wait six years or more.

The government knows that people are dying. It would suit their purpose very well to kick this into the long grass.

I feel the government is going to push for a full judicial inquiry and that is not what we want. We want a Hillsborough-style inquiry.

It’s crucial that we get what we want and they don’t get what they want. People like Kenneth Clarke, who was health secretary at the time, will hopefully have some very serious questions to answer.

 


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