The top civil servant in charge of the health department quietly recused himself from working on the infected blood scandal after dismissing concerns over his father’s role in the disaster, The Telegraph can reveal.
Sir Chris Wormald, the permanent secretary, liaised with campaigners on infected blood for four years before stepping back in March 2021, when the inquiry called his father to provide evidence, citing “a personal connection to a witness”.
Documents show Sir Chris changed his position in private, having previously played down his father Peter Wormald’s own role in the importation and distribution of contaminated blood products when he was an undersecretary in the Department of Health from 1978 to 1981.
The news comes in the same week as the Infected Blood Inquiry postponed its final report to March 2024. Some 1,250 people with haemophilia were infected with HIV by medical treatment in the 1980s, while up to 6,250 were infected with hepatitis C - the full story of which is told in my new book The Poison Line. Some 26,800 people also contracted hepatitis C from blood transfusions and at least 2,900 had died by 2019.
In June 2017, Sir Chris told Baroness Lynne Featherstone that his father had been a Department of Health official during the period when infected blood products were imported into the UK. He said that his father, Peter, had “no recollection of being involved in these issues, and there is no evidence from any of the records we have come across that he is,” according to minutes taken by the Department of Health.
However in 2021 Sir Chris absented himself from anything related to the inquiry. The following year his father submitted a 78-page witness statement to the blood Inquiry in which it said that he was “quite heavily involved in a number of issues”, including the running of Britain’s Blood Products Laboratory and attending meetings with American pharmaceutical companies that made Factor VIII contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C.
“It was common currency amongst my medical colleagues that imported blood products carried a much higher risk of transmitting infections,” Peter Wormald said in the statement.
There was no public announcement about Sir Chris’s decision to recuse himself and a second permanent secretary, Shona Dunn, was appointed to deal with the issue. Jason Evans, director of the Factor 8 campaign group, discovered the arrangement through a Freedom of Information request.
“Our community will be outraged by this revelation,” said Mr Evans. “It’s a never-ending scandal with new layers of injustice emerging frequently.”
In the five years before Sir Chris stepped back, he is likely to have advised ministers about whether to hold a public inquiry and the disclosure of historic documents.
“The inquiry had long been refused after Sir Chris’s team of officials repeatedly advised ministers that all documents on the subject were already in the public domain or destroyed,” said Mr Evans.
Sir Chris has previously apologised to two former health ministers, Jane Ellison and Nicola Blackwood, for having incorrectly told them all documents related to infected blood had been made available through the National Archives when there were in fact thousands that had never been released.
Ministers misled Parliament
In letters of apology, Sir Chris acknowledged multiple occasions when ministers had misled Parliament as a result of having received false information. He said: “I apologise that you were advised incorrectly on these occasions.”
“The fact that the top civil servant in the department peddling these falsehoods had such a conflict of interest raises enormous questions,” said Mr Evans. “How was this allowed to go on for so long?”
Mr Evans added: “Given the clear extent of Peter Wormald’s involvement in these events, it’s impossible to believe that the department was not aware of this conflict sooner.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The infected blood tragedy should never have happened and the ongoing public inquiry was set up to get to the truth and give families the answers they deserve.”
They added: “We are committed to being open and transparent with the inquiry, including disclosing all historical documents.”
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