Mother found out her sons had HIV from list pinned on hospital fridge

Birmingham Children's Hospital
Birmingham Children's Hospital

A mother discovered her sons had HIV after seeing their names on a list stuck to a hospital fridge, the Infected Blood Inquiry has heard.

Elisabeth Buggins' sons Richard and Jonathan, who suffered from severe haemophilia, both contracted HIV after being treated with infected blood products in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Ms Buggins said she was devastated to learn they had the virus when she saw their names on a list pinned to a fridge in a treatment room at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

Her story emerged when she gave evidence on Thursday at the Infected Blood Inquiry. Led by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff, the inquiry is examining what has been described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the health service.

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, and more than 2,000 people died.

Ms Buggins recalled that a meeting was held for parents at the hospital, where they were told their children had been put at risk of HIV infection through blood products used to treat them.

However, she said they were discouraged from asking doctors whether their child had been infected, as this might alter their relationship with them unnecessarily when there was no cure.

Describing the moment she discovered her sons' diagnoses a few days later, she told the inquiry: "There was a list pinned to the outside of the fridge door with a list of boys' names on it. Because I had spent so much time over the previous few years at the hospital, I knew which were big users of Factor VIII and which weren't."

Factor VIII is a blood product used to treat haemophiliacs.

Ms Buggins said she suspected Richard may have contracted the virus as he had received a substantial quantity of blood products in hospital before he died from HIV aged eight in 1986. However, she was devastated when she learned Jonathan also had the virus.

Her voice cracked as she told the inquiry: "Then I saw Jonathan's name. And that was completely unexpected."

Sir Brian Langstaff, chairman of the Infected Blood Inquiry
Sir Brian Langstaff, chairman of the Infected Blood Inquiry

Ms Buggins also recalled a traumatic incident before Richard's death in which her third son, Edward, who had contracted hepatitis C from infected blood, discovered his brother was HIV positive.

"We went to St Thomas' Hospital for treatment following eviction from the Children's Hospital. It wasn't our first clinic, it was some months in," she said.

"A new doctor appeared and he walked in the room with both sets of notes and he said to me 'let me get this straight - Jonathan has HIV and Edward has hepatitis C?' in front of Edward."

She said she told the doctor that Edward hadn't known about his brother's HIV diagnosis, and that the doctor was "profoundly sorry".

Another parent, Brenda Haddock, told the inquiry that she also found out accidentally that her son, Andrew, had contracted HIV through blood products.

Andrew, who was infected with HIV while being treated for his haemophilia, died aged 24 at Birmingham Children's Hospital in 1996.

Ms Haddock told the inquiry that her son had been told about his diagnosis in a private meeting with his doctor, and she only found out he had the virus when she was scanning his patient notes.

"I thought it was disgusting, to be quite honest. Andrew became very very depressed. He lost interest in everything," Ms Haddock told the inquiry.

"When he started secondary school, at the first parents' evening we were told he was a very intelligent boy with a great academic future. Then, all of a sudden, he could see no point in working hard at school because he thought he was going to die."

She added: "You never get over what we've been through. I've sort of compartmentalised it and just got on with things, because I was always frightened that if I thought about it too much, the floodgates would open and never shut."

The inquiry continues.