Socialist Worker

Victims speak out over contaminated blood agony - and call for justice

With a possible inquiry on the way, contaminated blood scandal victims spoke to Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2563

Thousands of people were infected with contaminated blood

Thousands of people were infected with contaminated blood (Pic: Tim Sanders)


A potential inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal has shone a spotlight onto an establishment cover-up. And the Tories are at the heart of it.

Some 5,000 haemophilia patients and others were given contaminated blood during the late 1970s and 1980s.

They were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. Around 2,500 have died. Most didn’t know they were infected—and some went on to unwittingly infect others.

Glenn was infected with Hepatitis C in 1983 when he was given a blood material called Factor VIII during a tooth extraction. He didn’t find out until 1995.

Glenn told Socialist Worker, “The doctor 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.”

Jackie was infected with Hep C in 1983 after having a transfusion but wasn’t diagnosed until 2011.

She told Socialist Worker that the true scale of the scandal is still unknown.

“I’m sure there are still people dying in ignorance, undiagnosed,” she said. “I have a friend who was only diagnosed 18 months ago.

“Hep C is a silent killer. Its symptoms can be overlooked or attributed to other factors.”

As Glenn sat in shock after learning of his infection, the doctor asked if he had taken drugs, had a tattoo, been “promiscuous” or travelled abroad.

“He was trying to shift the blame,” said Glenn. “He knew how I’d been infected.

Infected

“He looked at my notes and said, it was probably here in 1983 when you had Factor VIII. But if I’d said I have dabbled in drugs, he would’ve said I’d infected myself.”

Glenn said this happened to many people. “It’s outrageous that we were infected,” he said.

“But then to have them try and blame innocent people makes you really angry.

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

Jackie described how the news transformed her life. As well as her health, she had to worry about making ends meet.

“I was medically retired from my job and our whole future seemed to spiral out of control,” she said.

“I prayed I had cirrhosis, because at a certain stage you get extra money.

“Without this, my family could have ended up destitute. It beggars belief that you have to wish a death sentence on yourself just to provide for your family.”

Jackie said the authorities still want to cover up what happened.

“I asked my MP if all pre-op assessments could include asking patients if they had received a transfusion prior to 1991,” she said. “This could have found my Hep C earlier—and found it in others.

“He said this simple measure would not be possible.

“I feel they are not looking for victims because they still don’t want the scale of the scandal to come out.”


It was all about money - the Tories bought infected blood on the cheap

Glenn explained how the scandal was linked to cost-cutting and a drive for profit.

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

“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.

“They 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.

“The Conservative party were the main players. They have resisted an inquiry into this for years because they don’t want the lid taking off this can of worms.”

It’s not yet clear what kind of inquiry will take place. A previous inquiry into the scandal in Scotland, the Penrose Inquiry, came up with just one recommendation—to test everyone for Hep C. Campaigners rightly branded it a whitewash, and they don’t want another one.

“Campaigning made the government announce an inquiry,” said Glenn. “People like my MP Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North, have been absolutely wonderful.

“But the government has said it has released all the documents that it feels are ‘relevant’. We feel they’re withholding information.

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