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Another UK Scandal: The Infected Blood Inquiry

An estimated 30,000 people in the UK received contaminated blood transfusions and blood products infected with hepatitis C or HIV between 1970 and the early 1990s. People were left with long-term serious illnesses and more than 3,000 have died as a result. 

Years of campaigning by those affected has led to an inquiry which began in the summer of 2018. Sir Brian Langstaff, the chair of the inquiry recommended in 2022 that the government make an interim compensation payment of £100,000 to those who received infected blood or to their bereaved partners. 

In 2023, a new report revealed the need for a compensation scheme where parents and children of those with infected blood should also receive compensation. The government has said it will not be announcing its position until after the inquiry's final report is published which is expected on 20 May 2024. 

Historically, the UK’s inability to self-sufficiently supply blood products meant it became reliant on overseas intervention from countries such as the USA, where donors were paid for giving blood used for the treatment of conditions such as haemophilia. Ex-health minister David Owen told the inquiry that the government was aware of the risk involved in taking these donations at the time. The offer of money meant that donors were less inclined to disclose their illnesses or drug addictions. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) had also advised against importing blood from countries like the USA where hepatitis C was more widespread. On top of this, the donations given to the UK were not screened for such viruses and ultimately the advice was ignored due to the UK’s own lack of donations. 

In 1982, the first official warning of the danger of contracting these diseases through contaminated blood was published. The WHO also made a statement that those with haemophilia should be advised of the risks of using blood products. Yet the UK government persisted in its claim that treatments were safe, and these warnings did not reach those receiving blood products or transfusions. 

It was not until the late 80s and early 90s that blood donations began to be tested for HIV and hepatitis C. Those infected have not only struggled with serious health complications and death but also the stigma attached to these illnesses. The AIDS crisis saw a barrage of intolerance and miseducation that affected people’s relationships and careers. A similar phenomenon can still be seen through ill-informed negative perceptions of people with hepatitis C. A steady decline in mental health, financial pressures and lower life expectancies are also on the list of burdens faced by those who were victims of this scandal. 

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major’s testimony before the inquiry described the scandal simply as a case of “bad luck”, a statement he had to later apologise for in its minimisation of these complications. The inquiry also uncovered a letter from 1983 by Dr Spence Galbraith to the Department of Health that stated that "all products made from blood donated in the USA [...] should be withdrawn". No evidence could be provided that this was listened to at the time. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, who was the former Conservative health secretary described how state institutions can "close ranks around a lie", resulting in a failure to reveal the truth about the magnitude of this scandal earlier. 

From the post office and Windrush scandals to the covid inquiries, the blood transfusion scandal is just one in a long line of government cover-ups. Yet, the incomprehensible scale and consequence of this is unique and indicative of a much larger issue of transparency and trust within our institutions. 


Edited by Mariyam

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Tags: #Scandal #NHS #InfectedBlood #InfectedBloodInquiry


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