UK Government Apologies for Tainted Blood Scandal

Thursday 27th September 2018

The government’s legal team, speaking on behalf of the Department for Health and Social Care have apologised for the contaminated blood scandal, stating that “things happened that should not have happened”

The statement was made during a public inquiry to find out how several thousand people were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV through tainted blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, which began earlier this week.

Eleanor Grey QC acknowledged the “devastating” effect of the infections on the affected individuals and their loved ones, and added the government expressed “sorrow and regret” at the beginning of the inquiry.

This inquiry is the first that is both UK-wide and can compel witnesses to testify, coming after decades of victims campaigns and accusations that the scandal had been covered up.

The main cause of the scandal comes from imported blood products made from donated blood, most notably the blood plasma agent Factor VIII that were used to aid clotting of blood, particularly for people suffering from Haemophilia. At the time, whilst importing blood for transfusions from other countries was not done, blood-derived products and plasma derived products like Factor VIII could be, and with so much demand for plasma, NHS imported many of these products.

The problem was that laws across the world regarding risk of infection and blood transfusions only applied to whole blood, so plasma was harvested from corpses, prisoners, prostitutes, drug addicts, people known to be infected with hepatitis or HIV and other high risk groups, sometimes being paid for their plasma. This was a major scandal in prisons in Arkansas, USA. As one infected donor could taint an entire batch of plasma, this meant were a haemophiliac to use any tainted product, their chances of being infected with Hepatitis C or HIV was pretty much guaranteed. A study in 1986 found that 76% of people who used commercial Factor blood products became infected with HIV.

Despite this, tainted plasma products were used for over two decades in the NHS, leading to over 5000 infections and at least 1250 deaths. It is considered to be one of the biggest treatment disasters in the history of the NHS. It took until the late 1980s for heat-treatment to be used to kill the virus as well as the rise of synthetic

The inquiry heard the stories of people infected by HIV and hepatitis, including a man now aged 43 who aged 8 was misdiagnosed with haemophilia and given tainted blood products. He described how he had lost everything after finding out. Another story involved a woman infected with HIV by her husband, who had himself been infected through contaminated blood and were silenced due to the stigma of HIV at the time. These were a few among many stories of people infected and then silenced or not listened to over the decades.

The necessity of compelling witnesses to testify is to address issues of a cover up, which has thwarted a number of previous attempts at an enquiry with lots of NHS documents being found missing.

The enquiry is expected to take two years.