Infected blood scandal was ‘preventable catastrophe’, inquiry told

Thousands of patients infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through contaminated blood in a “preventable catastrophe” deserve a Government apology and compensation, an inquiry has heard.

Steven Snowden KC, instructed by Collins Solicitors, opened closing submissions on behalf of more than 1,500 core and non-core participants at the Infected Blood Inquiry on Tuesday.

In 2017, then-prime minister Theresa May ordered the public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal, which has been called the worst treatment disaster in NHS history.

Infected Blood Inquiry
The Infected Blood Inquiry memorial at Fleetbank House in London (Infected Blood Inquiry/PA)

An estimated 2,400 patients died after being infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, and the inquiry previously heard that approximately 380 children were infected with HIV through blood products in the UK.

Most of those involved had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and were given injections of the US product Factor VIII.

On Tuesday, Mr Snowden told the inquiry: “Thousands of men, women and children have died or had the trajectory of their lives unavoidably altered for the worse. Families have been shattered. This was a brutal, unacceptable, unforgivable and unnecessary travesty visited upon patients in the grossest breach of medical trust imaginable with truly devastating consequences.

“Individuals have been stripped of their dignity. They have been forced to lead lives they did not choose.

“Governments have over the years delayed, denied and have degraded those who are infected and affected by how they have subsequently been treated.”

He added: “We say this preventable catastrophe arose from the combination of pharmaceutical companies’ greed and unsafe practices, the skipping of known safety steps for blood products, insufficient regulation, foresight and planning by government, over-enthusiasm on the part of clinicians blinding them to the obvious risks and dangers of large pool blood products, failure on the part of the government and clinicians to recognise the long-standing danger of Non-A, Non-B Hepatitis, Hepatitis C as it came to be known, and their failure to respond appropriately and quickly to the new threat of HIV, HTLV3 as it was initially called, and, most significantly, failure to apprise the patients or, when they were children, their parents of the true state of affairs at the time or own up quickly afterwards.

“Why in the United Kingdom in the 21st century did it have to come to this?

“Why has the truth had to be squeezed out of government by campaigners through litigation and through public inquiry?”

Mr Snowden quoted former health secretary and current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who gave evidence to the inquiry in July 2022 and said: “I am afraid that institutions and the state close ranks around a lie, sometimes, and I think that’s what happened in this case.”

As well as wanting an apology, those affected and infected by the scandal have called on the Government to implement recommendations set out in an independent report by Sir Robert Francis, which set a framework for how victims could be compensated.

In October, the Government said thousands of victims of the infected blood scandal would receive interim compensation payments of £100,000 by the end of the month.

At the time, then-chancellor Nadhim Zahawi said: “No level of compensation will ever make up for the appalling treatment and circumstances that those affected by this scandal and their families have had to endure, but I hope that these interim payments go some way to demonstrate that we are, and always will be, on their side.”

But Mr Snowden said: “It’s not clear still whether the Government proposes to include or would commit to including parents who’ve lost children or children who lost parents within the (compensation) scheme.”

The affected and infected individuals also want a permanent memorial for victims in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, Collins Solicitors said.

And they want the history and issues arising from the contaminated blood scandal to be a required part of the syllabus for undergraduate medical and nursing training.

They also want health passports and fast-track NHS treatment to be provided for infected victims, and have asked that the inquiry passes all relevant evidence to prosecuting authorities in the four nations to allow them to independently consider whether criminal proceedings should be brought.

The inquiry will hear a closing statement by Eleanor Grey KC, acting on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, on Wednesday.

A Government spokesman said: “Victims of the infected blood scandal have suffered enough. The Government fully accepts the moral case for compensation and has paid interim compensation to those eligible.

“This was only the first step. Work continues to prepare for the conclusions and recommendations of the Infected Blood Inquiry later this year.”