Politicians should ‘hang heads in shame’ over UK infected blood scandal, victims say

<span>A woman holds a bouquet of flowers in the campaign colours as families affected by the infected blood scandal hear the findings of the six-year inquiry.</span><span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
A woman holds a bouquet of flowers in the campaign colours as families affected by the infected blood scandal hear the findings of the six-year inquiry.Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Politicians “should hang their heads in shame” over the contaminated blood scandal, victims’ groups have said, and warned of future disasters because lessons have not been learned.

Groups representing those infected with HIV and hepatitis C while being treated between 1970 and 1991 said the public inquiry’s final report vindicated victims who were “gaslit” and treated like “conspiracy theorists” for calling out the worst treatment disaster in NHS history.

The inquiry chair, Brian Langstaff, concluded in the report, published on Monday, that the infected blood scandal was avoidable and worsened by a government cover-up.

Related: What is the NHS contaminated blood scandal and how did it happen?

Clive Smith, the chair of the Haemophilia Society, said: “To our community that’s no surprise. We’ve known that for decades. Now the country knows, and the world as well.

“There was a deliberate attempt to lie and conceal – this was not just one person, this was systemic. That really rocks what we think of as a society, and really challenges the trust we put in people – none of that can be taken for granted any more.”

Smith said one “unprecedented” dimension to the report was the plan to check on the government’s progress in implementing the recommendations within 12 months. “That says that the chair of a public inquiry does not trust the current government – so if we think about this being past and historic, it’s not.”

Citing the recent example of the Post Office Horizon IT scandal, as well as maternity scandals in hospitals, Smith said such scandals continued to happen in the UK because the recommendations of public inquiries were ignored. ”That must stop today,” he said.

The government’s plan to provide a detailed response on Tuesday suggested it was “engineering a political moment which many people will find offensive and will continue to compound suffering”.

Although it is not covered by the scope of the report, many victims want to see criminal charges brought against those involved in the scandal. As a criminal barrister, Smith thought this would be difficult.

“If there were to be charges of substance against people, the time sadly has gone for that, because doctors for example who were testing their patients for HIV and not telling them, who went on to infect their partners, they could and should have been prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter,” he said.

But criminal prosecutions could also be levelled at those who covered up and removed medical records as this could represent the “systematic destruction of documents”, he added.

“I don’t think it’s too late, but I think the evidence needs to be reviewed and considered and if there is evidence then people do need to be prosecuted because sadly this report is landing today and I doubt there are many, if any, people at home thinking ‘I’m going to get a knock on the door from the police.’

“I’m afraid until people are actually concerned their actions will have consequences, we will not see the sort of institutional change Sir Brian has recommended today.”

Andy Evans, the chair of Tainted Blood and who was infected as a small child with HIV and hepatitis C, said a public inquiry could have been launched in 1986, rather than more than 20 years later. “How many people could have been brought to justice for this?” he said.

But he added that it was a “momentous day” that had left patients experiencing “a whirlwind of emotions”, including feeling “validated and vindicated”.

“We’ve been gaslit for generations,” he said. “When we told people, they didn’t believe us. They said this wouldn’t happen in the UK. Today this proves this can happen – and did happen – in the UK.”

He added: “When you’ve been building up to a single day for 40 years there’s no wrong or right emotion about it, but the campaigners who’ve been doing this for so long – relief absolute relief will be an overriding emotion. Certainly that’s the case for me.”

He suggested that the fact government cover-ups were often motivated by cost-saving – in this case the fear that compensating haemophiliacs would “set a precedent” for other groups – was self-defeating, as “this is the result and the Post Office is the result”.

Jackie Britton, who was infected with hepatitis C in a transfusion, added that many of those infected with hepatitis C were still struggling to get the medical care they needed, for example scans for liver damage every six months. “There should be best practice throughout the country, not a lottery.”

“Nobody can call us conspiracy theorists, our truth has been told,” she added.

Lynne Kelly, from Haemophilia Wales, said victims would continue to have “sleepless nights” over how compensation payments would be allocated. “Sir Brian may be overruled by the government or ignored, and that’s a real worry for people. We may still have to keep fighting after 40 years of fighting,” she added.