Contaminated blood scandal: Patients slam top medic over recording – ‘we were treated like lab rats’
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Contaminated blood scandal victims have slammed the former director of the Royal Free Hospital’s haemophilia centre after unearthing a recording which sees her admit to non-consensual blood testing of patients and criticise campaigners.
One anonymous victim known as patient B – who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C after being given contaminated blood products at the Royal Free – said the news made him feel “like a lab rat”.
Another former Royal Free patient, Mark Ward, told the Ham&High: “It doesn’t surprise me. I know now, looking back, that when I was transferred to the Royal Free, it was as a piece of meat for their research.”
Mark was also infected with HIV and Hep C by the blood products given to aid clotting.
In the astonishing recorded interview, which formed part of the Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) oral history project, Prof Christine Lee admits to routinely storing the blood of haemophilia patients without permission and to testing these samples for HIV and hepatitis C, again without consent.
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In the recording, she says: “Every time our patients with haemophilia came we collected a sample which was stored in our deep freezers.
“We didn’t ask their permission.”
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This is a shocking confirmation of what patients have long believed: they were targeted and experimented on without their knowledge after medical staff became aware of the potential risks of using blood factor concentrates.
In the recording, Prof Lee also admits that from 1983 onwards staff knew “100 per cent of people” given the Factor 8 blood products would get hepatitis C.
The Department of Health has previously said they “sought to be fully transparent on this tragedy” and that “we took steps to protect patients according to the best information then available”. Patient B said: “It makes me feel sick to the stomach that Christine Lee and others have used us as lab rats to study, like they owned us, all in the name of research for their own gain.
“How many haemophiliacs have gone to their graves never knowing the truth of what these people have done to us?
“To hear my former centre director laughing about not obtaining consent from me and other patients in order to further her private research is disgusting and I hope that she will be held fully responsible for her actions.”
Prof Lee, who was recorded speaking in June 2015, also claimed the “few patients driving this are probably after money, actually”.
The scandal saw thousands of haemophiliacs infected by contaminated blood and blood products supplied by the NHS during the 1970s and ’80s.
More than 2,000 people died as a result.
The recording was discovered by campaigner and investigator Jason Evans who founded Factor 8 Campaign UK, and is leading the group legal action brought against the Department of Health.
Jason’s father died of Aids after contracting HIV from Factor 8 products.
Jason told the Ham&High: “This will cause huge ripples in the community. This is the first time that there’s been this kind of admission of non-consensual testing [at the Royal Free’s haemophilia centre]. I couldn’t actually believe what I was hearing.
“Listening to Christine Lee speak so nonchalantly and even laughing about the non-consensual testing of haemophiliacs in this way is extremely disturbing.”
Although this the first audio to surface of a top doctor admitting to non-consensual testing, testing of the blood and organs of haemophiliacs has previously been admitted – both in medical journals and by the GMC.
Des Collins, of Collins Solicitors who are representing many of those affected by the scandal, told this newspaper: “That people were being tested and effectively being used as guinea pigs, without their knowledge, is horrific. It is also, sadly, another demonstration of why the Infected Blood Public Inquiry is so long overdue.
“Ultimately, the inquiry will get to the bottom of what happened and why, as well as identifying those responsible. But for many – including those ‘treated’ by Christine Lee - it will be a difficult journey.”
The independent public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal is due to begin on September 24, while the group legal action is currently running through the High Court.
When contacted through the RCP, Prof Lee declined to be interviewed by the Ham&High.
Factor 8 Campaign UK, has been made a core participant – meaning it has the right to legal representation – in the forthcoming inquiry. It is a non-profit support and advocacy organisation for those affected by the contaminated blood scandal.