By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2906

Infected blood inquiry: campaigners demand justice

Over 30,000 people were infected with deadly viruses while receiving NHS care between the 1970s and 90s
Issue 2906
A crowd shot of campaigners holding signs illustrating a story about the infected blood scandal inquiry

Survivors of the infected blood scandal, family members and justice campaigners in London on Monday (Picture: Alamy/Victoria Jones)

The NHS, the state and politicians orchestrated and then covered up the infected blood scandal that killed more than 3,000 people and wrecked the lives of thousands more.

That is the damning conclusion of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s final report, published on Monday after a five-year investigation.

More than 30,000 people were infected with deadly diseases while they were receiving NHS care between the 1970s and 90s. Many went on to develop hepatitis and HIV/Aids and died.

Inquiry chair Brian Langstaff said, “The scale of what happened is horrifying”, and that “the truth has been hidden for decades”.

“Viewing the response of the NHS and the of government overall, the answer to the question ‘Was there a cover-up?’ is that there has been,” says his report.

“The disaster was not an accident. The infections happened because those in authority—doctors, the blood services and successive governments—did not put patient safety first.

“The response of those in authority served to compound people’s suffering.”

Public inquiries don’t have the power to make recommendations about prosecutions, so the report doesn’t deal with this question. But it doesn’t take much imagination to come up with an initial list of those who should be in the dock.

First, the directors of the big pharmaceutical firms that sold blood products they knew to be risky. Those companies made huge profits by buying blood from donors in the US, even when they were likely to carry killer infections. 

Second, the doctors who treated their patients with dangerous blood products even after evidence of them carrying hepatitis and HIV/Aids became well-known. Along with them should stand those who authorised experiments on children with haemophilia to see if they were susceptible to the disease.

Third, the politicians who lied, saying there was no proof of such infections being transmitted in blood products. And with them should be the senior civil servants who destroyed vital evidence to guard against prosecution.

We know there is very little chance that anyone will ever face justice.

As Clive Smith from the Haemophilia Society said, “There are doctors out there who should have been prosecuted for manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter, doctors who were testing their patients of HIV without consent, not telling them about their infections.”

But just like the Hillsborough football and Grenfell Tower disasters, by the time the truth comes out most of the key offenders are dead or dying, or their memories are conveniently too scrambled for them to take the witness stand.

And current ministers never have to take the blame for their predecessors.

Instead, we get all the main parties rushing to agree with each other that this latest scandal really is terrible but that “lessons have been learned”.

The Tories want rid of the scandal because their party was in government in its most important years—the decade of the 1980s.

The report notes that Lord Clarke of Nottingham, the former Tory health secretary under Margaret Thatcher, misled the public over the dangers of infected blood products.

It says that it was “indefensible” that Clarke insisted there was “no conclusive proof” that Aids could be spread through blood in summer 1983, and repeated the line for several years.

But Labour too has shame it wants to hide.

In government for more than a decade in the late 1990s, the party dragged its feet over paying compensation to the victims and their families and made no effort to bring the scandal to a close.

No wonder Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, could say “all parties” will have to take some “very heavy criticism over the report”.

The politicians are agreed that such a scandal could never happen again.

Yet one of the key lessons is that big business cannot be trusted anywhere near health care and the NHS.

Both Labour and the Tories want the private sector to have a greater role in our health service. They want profiteering firms to run clinics, conduct surgical procedures and manage our hospitals.

A report by Oxford University found that between 2014 and 2022 outsourcing has been associated with some 557 deaths in England.

Privatisation is a deadly new health scandal waiting to happen.

Rishi Sunak is preparing this week to announce a new compensation scheme for victims of the scandal. It is reported to be costing £10 billion. Doubtless he hopes that will be the end of the matter.

But Sunak too has blood on his hands. He could have announced the scheme at the time of the inquiry’s second interim report in April last year. The inquiry’s chair recommended he do just that.

It would have meant victims, and their families, would have received compensation before this week’s final report.

Instead, Sunak strung out the process for over a year. In that time inquiry witness Perry Evans died—and so did many others who should have benefited from the scheme.

Every week brings a new, and similarly destructive, revelation of lives destroyed by profits, cuts and power—from maternity wards in crisis to people caring for disabled family being dragged to court. The infected blood report should mark a turning point in our resistance.

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