Sunak’s horror and regret over infected blood scandal

Infected blood scandal survivors and loved ones met in Westminster on Sunday to hold a rally ahead of the official inquiry's final report
Infected blood scandal survivors and loved ones met in Westminster on Sunday to hold a rally ahead of the official inquiry's final report - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

Rishi Sunak will on Monday apologise for the infected blood scandal and express regret and horror that successive governments have failed victims.

Tens of thousands of people were infected with HIV and hepatitis C by contaminated blood products, such as medicines and transfusions, that were used in the NHS between the 1970s and the early 1990s.

An estimated 3,000 people have died as a result, while those who survived have had to live with life-long health implications.

The final report of the Infected Blood Inquiry will be published on Monday after victims spent years seeking justice for what is described as the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

They have had to fight to receive compensation, and have never received a formal apology from the Government.

In his report, Sir Brian Langstaff, the inquiry chairman, is expected to expose the mistakes that led so many people to become ill.

The Prime Minister is expected to deliver the first formal government apology for the scandal when he addresses the Commons on Monday afternoon.

He is set to express deep regret at the failure of successive governments to allow the scandal to happen, contrition that it was not stopped sooner and horror that infected blood products had made their way into the NHS in the first place.

On Tuesday, the Government will set out its plans to compensate victims, with the total cost of the payouts expected to exceed £10 billion.

Medicines for haemophiliacs, including Factor VIII, were imported from the US and prescribed by the NHS in the 1970s and 80s. However, the treatments were made from blood plasma donations of groups at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C, such as gay men, sex workers and prisoners, and were often contaminated.

More than 1,250 haemophiliacs – including 380 children – contracted HIV from their medicines, and more than 5,000 contracted hepatitis C.

Contaminated blood was also used in transfusions before 1991, infecting a further 26,000 people with hepatitis C. Around 100 people caught HIV from these procedures, often after childbirth or severe trauma such as car accidents.

The inquiry has heard evidence that doctors knew about the risk from some imported blood products, but continued to treat patients with them. It has also heard that pharmaceutical companies did not prioritise the safety of their products, and that some victims lived in poverty after being left unable to work because of their illnesses.

On Sunday, Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary when the inquiry was announced in 2017, said: “This is the worst scandal of my lifetime. I think that the families have got every right to be incredibly angry that generations of politicians, including me when I was health secretary, have not acted fast enough to address this scandal.”

He said he would be announcing the compensation in honour of Mike Dorricott, a constituent who was a victim of the scandal and has since died.

Speaking about the cause of what happened, Mr Hunt said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who were responsible for this scandal were actually well-meaning civil servants back in the 1980s who decided to play God.

“And what I think happens is that, when something terrible like that happens, because the individuals involved are often well-meaning the establishment wants to close ranks behind them.”

The inquiry – the largest ever carried out in the UK – was announced by Theresa May, the then prime minister, and started work a year later.

On Sunday, Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, acknowledged that victims of the infected blood scandal had had to wait “far too long” for compensation, telling the BBC: “I think it has taken far too long to get to this – a problem that has gone on for decades.”

Speaking on LBC Radio, he said the publication of the Infected Blood Inquiry report would be a “very significant moment”.

Interim payments of £100,000 have so far been made to around 4,000 infected people and the spouses of deceased infected individuals. No compensation has yet been paid to bereaved parents or orphaned children, despite it being a recommendation of the inquiry.

Last week, The Telegraph revealed that additional interim payments to the original cohort of infected individuals would be paid in the summer. The Government will launch the Infected Blood Compensation Authority, which will be responsible for arranging compensation payouts.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is set to respond to Mr Sunak in the Commons later on Monday, and NHS England is also set to issue a statement that evening.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said “successive governments” bore responsibility, telling Sky News: “Everyone has got their responsibility to bear in this appalling scandal, and we have got a shared responsibility to put it right.”

More than 100 members of the infected blood community, including survivors and loved ones, met in Westminster on Sunday evening to hold a rally ahead of the inquiry’s final report.

Wearing red clothes and holding banners reading “justice for the infected and affected” and “they have blood on their hands”, campaigners held a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the scandal who have died.

Sarah Dorricott – the daughter of Mr Dorricott, who died of liver cancer in 2015 after he contracted Hepatitis C from his haemophilia medication – told The Telegraph that an apology from the Government needed to be whole-hearted.

“A quick apology about the pain and suffering the victims have been through isn’t going to cut it. We need full validation that our feelings have been recognised,” she said. “If we receive a limp, half-hearted and brief apology, it won’t be good enough for any of the victims still alive to hear it.”

She also called on all parties to offer their apologies to the community because “the damage spans decades”.

Nobody has so far been held accountable for the scandal in the UK, and survivors and family members have long sought justice, an apology and financial compensation for the harms done to them.

Sir Brian’s final report, expected to heavily criticise both individuals and organisations involved in the scandal, has already been delayed twice while those criticised in draft versions were given the chance to respond. Lawyers are expecting the report to make referrals for criminal prosecution to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Lord Mayor Treloar College, a specialist school for disabled young people that infected more than 100 children with HIV and hepatitis, is at the centre of the scandal and will feature heavily in the report.

NHS doctors working on-site at the school in the 1970s and 80s have had their actions compared to the behaviour of Nazi doctors after children were experimented on with infected blood products.

Survivors are considering further legal action and seeking criminal charges.