Public inquiry investigates thousands of deaths from infected NHS blood
A public inquiry has opened to look into how infected NHS blood killed more than 2,900 people since the 1970s.
The Infected Blood Inquiry, headed up by Sir Brian Langstaff, a former high court judge, was announced in July last year following years of campaigning by those affected, their families, and organisations.
It began today with a tribute to the many individuals who were given transfusions or treatments with blood infected with the HIV virus and hepatitis C.
The inquiry into the scandal, which was dubbed ‘the worst treatment disaster in NHS history’, will address how the blood was obtained and came to be used for people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders.
Some patients had transfusions of the infected blood plasma whereas others were injected with blood-clotting protein Factor VIII, which haemophiliacs do not produce naturally.
Much of the human blood plasma used to make the product came from donors such as prison inmates, sex workers and drug addicts based in the US, who sold their blood. This was to meet a shortfall in the amount of blood available in the UK.
Blood products were not routinely heat-treated until the mid-1980s to kill any viruses. Screening of blood products began in 1991 and by the late 1990s, synthetic treatments for haemophilia were available, removing the infection risk.
Many sufferers remained quiet about the illnesses contracted through the infected blood products because of the historic stigma attached to HIV and hepatitis C.
The first evidence will be heard after Easter next year, with the process expected to last between two and five years. The inquiry will consider statements from hundreds of witnesses and experts.
Sir Brian Langstaff said: “The inquiry has already received over 100,000 documents and expects to acquire several times that number. There will also be many hundreds of witness statements. I am grateful for each and every contribution.
“There must, however, still be more who have knowledge, documents and their own accounts to add. I know that going over the past can be difficult, but I encourage them to come forward.”
Previous inquiries failed to address the issue adequately and the government has been accused of covering up the scandal, with former health secretary Andy Burnham reportedly saying in the House of Commons last year that there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale”.
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