By Yuri Prasad
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Tories must compensate contaminated blood scandal victims, says inquiry chair

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People are still waiting for justice after they were infected with contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 80s
Issue 2850
Image of someone receive a blood transfusion illustrating and article about contaminated blood and contamination

Thousands of people were given contaminated blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s (Picture: Factor 8 Campaign)

The parents and children of victims of the contaminated blood scandal should receive government compensation, a judge has said.

The chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry, Brian Langstaff, said it was time to “recognise deaths which have so far gone unrecognised”. The government must now respond to his recommendation.

In August 2022, ministers agreed to make the first interim compensation payments of £100,000 each to 4,000 surviving victims and their bereaved partners.

Campaigners told Socialist Worker at the time that it was “utterly scandalous” that it had taken decades of struggle to get even those payments. And, they rightly said the money was “too little, too late”.

The inquiry now appears to agree with them. Judge Langstaff said a final compensation framework should be set up by the end of the year. That would include payments to parents and children of those who were infected and lost their lives. “It will clearly take political will to act quickly, but the circumstances here warrant it,” he added.

After years in which governments have tried to ignore the scandal, current health secretary Steve Barclay must not be allowed to create further delay.

Tim Wratten’s father and two uncles died from hepatitis C after receiving infected blood. He now campaigns for children of those affected. “I only found out when I was 16 that my dad had it,” he told BBC news.

“It’s a lot to take on, growing up trying to understand the impact of the virus. He used to get angry because you’ve got this horrible virus going through your body, but you’ve got to go to work and carry on.”

Tim said he did not receive any counselling or support, and feels children were “brushed under the carpet”. His story is repeated many times over.

Thousands of people were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after being given contaminated blood during the late 1970s and 1980s. So far, about 3,000 people have died as a result, according to The Haemophilia Society.

Up to 4,700 people with bleeding disorders were infected. Most were given a blood-clotting product known as Factor 8, much of which was bought from the US. That was despite government ministers knowing it was potentially unsafe.

US firms used paid blood donors to get the raw material for Factor 8. But they didn’t screen the blood they used for disease, meaning that one infected person could poison a whole batch of up to 60,000 donors.

Some 76 percent of those that used Factor 8 and similar products became infected with HIV, according to a 1986 study.

Former Labour health minister Lord Owen insists he warned of the danger when in office at the end of the 1970s. He says it was already known that blood given voluntarily was safer, but more expensive than that given by paid donors.

But, he says, the Tory ministers that came after him ignored his advice because they wanted to cut costs. Successive governments, the state and the NHS have for years sought to cover up the scandal.

Doctors refused to reveal to patients the real reason for their HIV infections. Medical records were destroyed. And former health ministers continue to insist no one at the time knew that unscreened blood was dangerous.

Tory former health secretary Ken Clarke appeared before the inquiry as a witness last year. He could not hide his contempt for it, complaining of his “exasperation” at “pointless” and “irrelevant” questions.

Clarke was first a junior minister and then health secretary during Margaret Thatcher’s more than a decade in power, and campaigners believe him to be a central figure in the scandal.

At one point, he asked, “Why do we have to go through such meticulous detail through who said what when, when did he change his mind?” He added that it was “interesting” but “pretty pointless”. Yet the detail is vital.

While a health minister, Clarke is on record saying, “It has been suggested that Aids may be transmitted in blood or blood products, there is no conclusive proof that this is so. Nevertheless I can well appreciate the concern that this suggestion may cause.”

But inquiry documents now show senior health officials in his department thought it likely HIV could be carried in blood. The HIV virus can cause Aids. Clarke was either ignorant of their advice, or he chose to override it.

The inquiry’s call for payments is a big step towards the state finally accepting responsibility for the biggest health disasters in the history of the NHS. But no amount of money will comfort those who lost family members.

A mother who lost two sons told the inquiry, “It doesn’t matter how many years go by, you’re still asking, Why? Why? Why? It won’t bring them back. I just want them back so much, I just ache for them to come back.”

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