Contaminated blood: 'We need closure' say campaigners as independent public inquiry into NHS scandal begins
PUBLISHED: 18:40 24 September 2018
Former Royal Free patients who were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C by being given contaminated blood spoke at an emotionally charged independent public inquiry that began today – after a wait that has lasted decades.
The inquiry, which is being chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, has spent more than a year gathering information and will for the first time see former ministers and senior civil servants expected to give evidence.
Those affected by the scandal, which saw thousands of people contract HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses from blood products or transfusions given to them by the NHS, have spoken of the need for the inquiry to finally provide answers.
Haemophiliacs were among the first affected, as many were reliant on “blood-factor” clotting products, which were among those contaminated with viruses.
Before the inquiry began, Mark Ward, who contracted both illnesses by being given contaminated blood products at the Royal Free Hospital’s haemophilia centre in Hampstead, said: “I’m running out of ways to explain what it’s like. An analogy would be that when a jumbo jet crashes and people die, there’s an investigation. For us, it’s been a number of jet crashes, and we’ve never had an investigation up to now.”
Between 1979 and 1985, 315 haemophiliacs are thought to have been infected with Hepatitis C at the Royal Free, 111 of those also contracting HIV.
In a video shown to a packed room in Church House, Westminster, where the inquiry’s preliminary hearings are taking place, Mark also said: “I have lost count of all of the times I’ve been told I’m going to die. We have been betrayed. We need closure, and justice has to be seen to be done.”
In his opening speech, Sir Brian said the three days of preliminary hearings were to help shape the inquiry. He said: “I want to put people at the heart of this inquiry. That’s not just a slogan. I mean it.”
He also pledged the inquiry would be conducted as speedily as possible, as he acknowledged many involved fear dying before the inquiry’s conclusion.
Another victim infected with both HIV and Hepatitis C at the Royal Free told the Ham&High: “We hope this’ll be the time we get answers. It’s about what happens now.”
The patient’s mother added: “I’ve been fighting this for a long, long time, and we’ve been through this sort of thing before with the Archer and Penrose inquiries.”
The commemoration also included a choral performance, a poem read by Lemn Sissay, and actors Isla Blair and David Robb performing.
At the end of the commemoration, hundreds of “the infected and affected” stood and placed messages for lost loved ones into empty blood vials.
Meanwhile, campaigner Jason Evans, whose father Jonathan died after developing Aids having been given contaminated blood products, told this newspaper: “Really, we’re just itching for it to begin. It’s been long enough.”
Ahead of the inquiry’s opening, solicitor Des Collins – who is representing 800 victims and families and eight campaign groups at the inquiry – said: “This is a day few thought that they would ever see – and it is a testament to those who have campaigned so hard to make it a reality.
“The feeling among our many clients is that they felt that the government had washed its hands of them, but now those responsible – both in government and at pharmaceutical companies – will be held to account.”
During the commemoration, Mr Robb and Ms Blair gave a dramatic reading spelling out the figures, facts and impact of the scandal.
According to its terms of reference, which were published in July, the inquiry will consider “whether there have been attempts to conceal details of what happened” through the destruction of documents or withholding of information.
It will also consider if those attempts were deliberate and if “there has been a lack of openness or candour” in the response of the government, NHS bodies and other officials to those affected.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced in July last year that an inquiry would be held into the events over the two decades, when thousands of haemophiliacs and other patients in the UK were given infected blood products.
The inquiry is expected to take at least two-and-a-half years.