The Blog

Tainted Blood Victims Await Their Apology

It's never too late for an apology.

The shameful slur against football fans over the Hillsborough tragedy and the cover up by police led to a national outcry and an apology after 23 years.

Let me remind you about a 30 year scandal where victims still seek justice - if they are still alive. These are innocent people waiting for an apology for their ruined health, as well as 2,000 families who lost loved ones because they were contaminated by NHS blood.

Yet there has never been a public enquiry into how haemophiliacs were treated with blood contaminated during routine operations in the 1970s and 80s which led to more than 5,000 people becoming infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, and the 2,000 deaths. They died because the blood had been imported from America from US suppliers who used what became known as "skid row" donors, such as prison inmates, who were more likely to have HIV and Hepatitis C.

We expect our NHS to cure us, not kill us, yet it has never been accountable for this most awful and heinous disaster where innocent people died or suffered appalling health problems as a result of the treatment they received.

Why are they are still waiting for an apology?

Even though Lord Winston described it as the "worst ever treatment disaster in the history of the NHS", they are still waiting for an apology.

Even though an inquiry led by Lord Archer of Sandwell described it as a "horrific human tragedy", they are still waiting for an apology.

Lord Archer's report concluded that there was "lethargic" progress towards national self-sufficiency in blood products in England and Wales, where it took 13 years compared to just five years in Ireland.

I learnt about this terrible catastrophe when I stumbled across a group of dignified and determined victims during a visit to Westminster in 2010 where they were lobbying MPs for justice. A derisory offer of an ex-gratis payment followed, but, despite being weakened by their condition, with depleted numbers as a result of their rising death toll, the remaining survivors are strengthened by their desire for justice, recognition for their suffering - and a long and overdue apology.

Joseph Peaty, a member of the campaign group Tainted Blood, questions why there has never been a public inquiry into this unbelievable disaster. He says:

As I listened to the Prime Minister delivering his statement to parliament on the findings of a review in to the Hillsborough tragedy, an icy shiver went through me. Initially I was simply heartened that the government could act with compassion and humility when they choose to. After all, the Hillsborough tragedy and resultant fight for the truth have been highly visible and have gained substantial empathy from the public and it felt great to see them achieve this victory after so long.

But as I listened to the description of the reasons for the loss of life, admission of the state's failure to protect life and unwillingness to openly seek out the truth and promote accountability, I became acutely aware of the way the facts mimicked what had happened to me and the 5,000+ others infected, injured and killed by NHS contaminated blood treatments in the 1970's

Unlike Hillsborough, our disaster has never been granted a transparent, public, government initiated inquiry into the truth; in fact there has never been any co-operation from them in this area and they have never sought to apply any accountability. On the contrary the widespread destruction of evidence and lack of effort to preserve the truth is indicative of the type of authoritative, self preserving attitude evident throughout the 1970's by certain agents of the State.

Mr. Cameron described the events as wrong and said that it should never take 23 years to establish the truth where the public believe an injustice has occurred. Surely if this is right then how much more true must it be in the case of contaminated blood and blood products - a scandal that is now 30 years old!

Tainted Blood is asking the new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to listen and care about their plight. They have written to him pleading:

Since you previously showed a sympathetic response to the plight of haemophiliac constituents who have been adversely affected by the contaminated blood catastrophe, I am sure you will be keen to know that we are currently exploring appropriate legal avenues. In particular, we are keen to see a full judicially-empowered inquiry established and we would very much like this to take place under your time as Secretary of State.

Therefore, please may I take this opportunity to formally request an inquiry into the en masse contamination of persons with haemophilia in the United Kingdom and to specifically look at what might be the full array of potential contaminants, as well as the multiple viruses known to have ravaged our community. If you feel you must decline us this request, please may I ask that you provide us with new reasons that reflect your fresh pair of eyes coming into your new role.

I would also like to ask that you look again at the levels of payments awarded to our community. There is a commonly felt belief that the current payments are wholly inadequate. There is a need for more substantial payments for people infected and bereaved; something significant enough to remove their reliance on state benefits.

In order to reflect the current fiscal climate, consideration could be given to staggered payments. It should also be stressed that there will eventually be an end to the support required - once all infected and bereaved are dead. The size of our group is finite, and due to a mortality rate of around one a month, is ever decreasing. Ageing, coupled with deteriorating health of survivors is adding a new unaddressed dimension.

Many of us have campaigned for over twenty-five years now in order to achieve truth and justice, both for those still living and the 2,000 plus who have already died. We are determined to continue this fight until we achieve our aims, but are ever conscious that, as we fight those determined to brush us and our story under the political carpet, each month there will be yet another death from what was described by the late Lord Archer of Sandwell in his report as: '...a horrific human tragedy.'

We expect the upcoming inquiry report from Lord Penrose will further articulate just how horrific this catastrophic failure to protect human life has been and will lay bare the contribution made by the UK government to this tragedy.

You may be told that this matter does not warrant further attention; I would invite you to meet campaign representatives personally and hear directly the awful reality of their damaged lives and why you must resist such pressures.

Here is a link in memory of those who died because of being infected with NHS contaminated blood. For them, an apology is too late.