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Contaminated blood inquiry to probe thousands of deaths

Published on 12/07/17 at 10:00am

UK Government has announced that it will launch an inquiry to discover how 4,670 people were given blood infected by HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) in the 1970s and 1980s. The scandal directly led to the deaths of 2,400 but no party has ever been deemed responsible for the public health disaster.

The move by Prime Minister Theresa May came after an emergency debate was held on the issue in the House of Commons. It could have led to a vote on an emergency motion about the need to hold an inquiry, which May moved to nip in the bud by announcing an inquiry rather than facing a potential defeat.

The case relates to a period between 1978 and 1985, where supplies of a clotting agent for haemophiliacs were imported from outside of the UK. In particular, campaigners have noted that a treatment called Factor VIII paid prison inmates for their blood plasma – who may have been carrying the infectious diseases.

Due to various failings, this led haemophiliacs to be infected with HIV and HCV without their knowledge. In certain cases, this information was even kept from them as part of an alleged cover-up.

As well as this period, through the years 1970 to 1991, there were further estimated cases of 32,718 people infected with HCV during the course of medical treatment.

Theresa May said of the scandal: “I’m determined that when you see cases like this, where I think people have suffered injustice, that we do deal with them, that we do ensure that people who have waited far too long, who have been through pain and hardship, are given the answers they deserve.”

The decision will come as a major victory for those who have been campaigning for many years to have a full inquiry into the affair.

Liz Carroll, Chief Executive of The Haemophilia Society, said, “For decades people with bleeding disorders and their families have sought the truth. Instead, they were told by the Government that no mistakes were made while it repeatedly refused to acknowledge evidence of negligence and a subsequent cover up. Finally, they will have the chance to see justice.”

The shape of the inquiry will be decided in conjunction with the families of those who died as a result of the scandal, this means it could be an independent or a statutory inquiry. The suggestion that there may have been criminality involved in ‘covering up’ the scandal has granted the case even greater urgency.

It has been suggested that the inquiry will begin “as soon as is practical” but, after years of waiting, those affected will be keen to see the cogs of government turn quickly to get the investigation under way.

Ben Hargreaves

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