Socialist Worker

Contaminated blood campaigners fear new inquiry could be just another cover-up

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2563

Thousands of people were infected with contaminated blood

Thousands of people were infected with contaminated blood


Survivors of the contaminated blood scandal have rejected a meeting with the Department of Health (DoH) because it is “implicated” in the scandal.

Around 5,000 people were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV after being given contaminated blood in the late 1970s and 1980s. The government bought blood cheaply from the US and ignored warnings that it was unsafe.

There is also evidence that contaminated blood was used on some people in order to test its “infectivity”.

A letter signed by several survivors raised fears of a further cover-up after the government announced there could be an inquiry. It said, “We do not believe that the DoH should be allowed to direct or have any involvement into an investigation into themselves, other than giving evidence.

“The handling of this inquiry must immediately be transferred elsewhere.”

It added that any inquiry run by the DoH would be “an insult, a farce and a waste of time.

“This could be viewed as a continuation of historic cover-ups.”

Jackie was infected with Hepatitis C in 1983. She told Socialist Worker, “Nobody wants DoH involvement, except to provide evidence when called for.

“It is at the heart of the scandal and cover up. It would be a conflict of interest for it to have a hand in the set-up of the inquiry.”

Scandal

Around 2,500 people have died as a result of the scandal. Most of those affected didn’t find out until years later.

Michelle Tolley was infected with Hep C in 1987—but didn’t know until November 2015. She told Socialist Worker, “I want the truth. I want to know why this happened and I want to know who gave their consent to do that to all of us.

“The inquiry may only look at haemophiliacs. So people like me, who received whole blood, may be excluded. But we’ve all been affected and any inquiry must be for everybody who has been infected and affected.”

Ronan Fitzgerald’s mother Jane was infected with Hep C during a blood transfusion to treat an ectopic pregnancy in 1979.

Like many people Ronan has fears over whether an inquiry would deliver justice because of how the authorities have treated victims. “There’s mistrust because of the attitude they’ve shown towards us, a real contempt,” he said.

“Will the inquiry be done thoroughly? Will there be transparency of information? This is all stuff that really concerns us.

“Until we get what we want, I don’t think we’re ever going to trust anyone."


‘All they’ve given me is a death sentence’

Ronan described the impact of the scandal on his mother Jane and his family.

Jane was infected in 1979 but didn’t find out until 2004. “It really affected mum ever since she found out,” Ronan told Socialist Worker.

“There was a stigma about it. And she got very little help—she always felt like she was on her own with it. It put a real strain on all her relationships. She had trust issues.

“It affected my relationship with her. She just simply wasn’t herself. She wasn’t the mother that I remembered.”

Ronan also described the lack of support for victims. “My mum gave up work around the time she found out, she was too tired and unwell,” he said. “My dad’s in a worse financial situation now because of it.

“And every year she had a reassessment to get some funds. Every year it was a fight. Everything that came was prove this, prove that.

Letter

“It was like they were trying to prove she was well. I remember one letter my mum showed me about benefits talked as if she was going to get better.

“And my mum had to say, you don’t know anything about this disease—it’s going to kill me.”

There was no support from local MPs either. “For years I tried to contact my mum’s MP when she was too ill to do it,” said Ronan. “I never got a response from anyone. I was never able to get a story in my local newspaper.

“It’s a Conservative run newspaper and a Conservative local MP. And obviously they haven’t shown any support for an inquiry.”

Ronan’s mum died 18 months ago. “It was a fight proving that contaminated blood killed my mum,” he said.

“They were trying to pass it off as other things. But we managed to get it on her death certificate.”

Ronan has vowed to keep campaigning on her behalf. “I cry daily,” he said. “I’m a young, strong man—an ex-soldier who fought in the army. And it breaks me.

“I was so close to my mum, my mum should be here. I feel like I fought for this country and now I have to fight this country for justice.”

They knew the blood was wrong—they should not have used it. They should not have experimented on people

Michelle Tolley

Michelle Tolley was infected with Hep C in 1987 when she was given blood during childbirth. But she only found out in late 2015—and said she’d been blocked from finding out earlier.

“In the mid-1990s, an advert came on the TV saying, if you’d had blood transfusion there’s a chance you could have received infected blood,” she told Socialist Worker. “It advised you to go to your GP.

“I did and he basically told me to go away, made me feel like a silly girl, that I was wasting his time and he wouldn’t test me.”

In November 2015 Michelle had a liver test that was abnormal, and was asked to visit her GP. She said the doctor asked if she was a “drinker”.

“I mentioned that I’d had blood transfusions and he said, ‘Oh no’. I was tested and told I had Hep C the next day.”

Michelle said the news was devastating. “I was planning my funeral, I thought I was going to die,” she said. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I felt very dirty. And then I got angry.

“I had to do something to get it out of my system. I wanted to speak out as much as I could to let other people know about it.”

Michelle had treatment for Hep C and now has regular check-ups.

Panicking

“Next week I’ll find out if the virus is still out of my system,” she said. “I’m panicking. I’m too ill to work. My husband’s had to give up work to look after me as I get very anxious.

“I am extremely angry at the government and my own MP, George Freeman, for ignoring me and not replying to me. They knew in the late 1970s that there was a problem. But it was only in 1991 that they started to screen the blood.

“They knew the blood was wrong—they should not have used it. They should not have experimented on people.”

Michelle said politicians had covered up the scandal. And she refuses to trust them just because Theresa May has said there could be an inquiry.

“I believe that Theresa May’s hand was forced in saying there could be an inquiry,” she said. “One journalist said, don’t you have to give a bit of credit where credit’s due to her? And I said no. She could have done this last year and she didn’t.

“She is part of the puzzle that wants to keep it quiet and under wraps.

“They can’t give me back my life—I want my last 30 years back. All they’ve given me is a death sentence".


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