News In Focus
Tainted blood inquiry calls for higher compensation for victims
The infection of thousands of British haemophiliacs with hepatitis C and HIV through tainted blood supplies was a “horrific human tragedy” in which commercial interests took precedence over public health concerns, an independent inquiry has concluded.
The two-year, privately funded inquiry, led by former Solicitor General Lord Archer of Sandwell, also called for victims to receive further compensation and criticised the Government’s delays in responding to the scandal.
More than 4,600 haemophiliacs across the UK, who received blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s, were infected after the NHS bought blood products from US suppliers who used paid “skid row” donors with high rates of infection with hepatitis C and HIV. Nearly 2,000 people have died as a result of receiving tainted blood.
Despite pressure from campaigners over the years, successive Governments have refused to hold a public inquiry into the scandal, something the Archer report said should have been done at a much earlier stage.
Ministers and officials from the Department of Health refused to appear before or provide documents to the inquiry, though this did not prevent it from revealing a general level of ignorance about the transmission of viruses at the time. Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke assured MPs in 1983 that there was no evidence that Aids was transmitted by blood products.
An inquiry set up by the Scottish Government, under Lord Penrose, will begin later this year but will also lack the power to compel London-based witnesses, as reported yesterday.
Some victims have received payments of up to £20,000 from a fund set up jointly by the Scottish and UK Governments. The Archer inquiry did not put a figure on its recommended compensation, for fear the Government would start to beat it down, but noted that six-figure sums have been paid in Ireland.
Philip Dolan, chairman of the Scottish Haemophiliacs Forum, said there had to be an inquiry that would uncover every detail of the scandal. “We need to hear directly from the health professionals and officials who made key decisions. This is the only way we will every fully understand what happened, and why.”