Infected Blood Inquiry: Highgate mother slams ‘long, long history of deceit’ at hearings into blood scandal

Nick Hirsch

Nick Hirsch - Credit: Archant

Giving evidence at the Infected Blood Inquiry on Thursday, Highgate’s Della Ryness-Hirsch, 75, said her son Nick grew to be “so, so frightened” of the Royal Free Hospital during the 1990s, where she said staff were “so without care”.

Della also told the inquiry that she had "kicked up bloody murder" to prevent Nick being given blood products derived from American donors to treat his haemophilia as a small child at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

Nick, who was infected with Hepatitis C in around 1980 when he received contaminated blood products, died in March 2012 after treatment for his worsening condition led to organ failure.

Della, supported by her husband Dan, told the inquiry that they had been stunned to learn in the early 1980s that "every other child" at GOSH's haemophilia unit had been infected with HIV. Somehow, Nick had not, though this is likely when he contracted the then-unknown hep C.

She also said Nick's treatment at a number of different London hospitals - including for much of his youth and twenties at the Royal Free - had been fraught with trauma.

She said: "It was just one long, long history of deceit and unkindness. What for? For money."

As early as 1978 Della raised fears about US-derived blood products being given to her son.

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But in 1980, doctors were set to move him onto Factor 8, which could have come from the US. Della said: "They said Nick has to go on to this new treatment, the one from America.

"I kicked up bloody murder."

Della later discovered across her Nick's medical notes the phrase "neurotic mother" had been scrawled that day.

Even while Nick was a small child treated at GOSH, Della wrote letters to the Guardian discussing her fears about Nick being exposed to the then-barely understood HIV virus.

Her pushing led a doctor there to explain they had been testing the children for it, but didn't prevent children being given Factor 8 products from the US

"First of all he told Dan and I that all the children in the unit had been tested for the virus and Nick was the only one who didn't have it. We didn't even know Nick had been tested."

Nick, a musician who ran a recording studio in Wood Green with his twin brother and also toured professionally, had been diagnosed as an haemophiliac as a baby - despite having no family history of the blood condition - and required blood products including Factor 8, which was created by pooling plasma from blood donors.

Controversially, when UK stocks ran low, products were bought in from the US, where donors were paid and included criminals and those with viruses like HIV and Hep C.

Nick was first diagnosed with Hepatitis C in July 1990, when, Della said, "it was certainly not explained that it was serious at all".

This was the time Nick was a patient at the Royal Free, which he grew to fear.

"He was so frightened of going to the Royal Free," Della said. "They'd pull him into a side office and some totally disinterested doctor would say, 'Oh, by the way, you've been exposed to this', or, 'Oh, by the way, that batch you had ...'."

Della also told the enquiry of the horrific circumstances of Nick's death. Then he was beinig treated at the Royal London hospital.

She said: "For three hours we were trying to get an ambulance to take him to the Royal London hospital. In the end we had to find a private ambulance.

"Then they locked us out of intensive care. We slept on the floor outside of intensive care that night.

"We never saw him alive again."

Seven years after losing her son, Della paid tribute to him.

"He was funny, irreverent, talented, loving, maddening and wonderful son, brother, partner and father too, if only for 10 months.

"We miss the hell out of him."

She added: "I just feel so passionately. No just because it was my son, there were thousands of people this was happening to."

The inquiry, led by Sir Brian Langstaff, continues over the next few months.

The Ham&High's investigation into the scandal helped expose the extent of those affected by the contaminated blood scandal, for more details see our historic coverage.