May announces inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal at centre of Ham&High campaign

Nick Hirsch

Nick Hirsch - Credit: Archant

An inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal which has left 2,400 people dead is to be launched, the Government announced on Tuesday.

Mark Ward outside the Houses of Parliament. Picture: PA Images

Mark Ward outside the Houses of Parliament. Picture: PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Prime Minister Theresa May told the cabinet a probe was needed into how thousands of people were given contaminated blood products by the NHS in a scandal which has killed at least 2,000 people and left many more suffering serious health conditions, such as hepatitis C or HIV.

In what has been described as one of the NHS’ worst scandals, blood products made from high-risk donors such as drug addicts, prisoners and prostitutes were given to patients around the world.

The inquiry comes after a Ham&High campaign calling for justice for victims of the scandal brought their plight back onto the political agenda.

Up until now, the Government has resisted calls for an inquiry.

The entrance to the Royal Free Hospital Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

The entrance to the Royal Free Hospital Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire - Credit: PA WIRE

In the UK the scandal mainly affected patients with haemophilia who were given a contaminated blood product called Factor VIII by the NHS in the 70’s and 80’s.

Some 315 patients at the Royal Free Hospital, in Hampstead, were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through treatment with blood products from 1979 to 1985.

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Among Victims treated at the Royal Free was Highgate musician and father Nick Hirsch, who died in 2012 from hepatitis C (hep C) contracted from infected blood. He was aged 36 and had a 10-month-old daughter.

He was one of thousands of haemophiliacs infected by the contaminated blood.

His mother Della Hirsch had told the Ham&High of the stonewall she faced as she tried to alert doctors to her fears that life-saving blood treatments carried the potentially deadly viruses.

“I had over a period of two years tried to tell the haemophilia department at Great Ormond Street that there was a problem with blood used for treatment,” said Della, who lives in Highgate and is the sister of former Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone.

Former British Airways employee Mark Ward, 46, was given imported Factor VIII as a child to treat his haemophilia, against his parents wishes, at The Royal Free.

Aged 14, he was told he had HIV and he later learned he had also been infected with hep C and exposed to CJD. Despite this Mark had a successful career in the airline industry before ill health forced him to stop work.

May’s announcement came on Tuesday, just hours before MPs held an emergency debate on the contaminated blood scandal.

Commons Speaker John Bercow granted the debate after a request from Labour’s Diana Johnson, who said ministers had failed to consider evidence of criminal activity.

Former minister Ms Johnson called the contaminated blood scandal “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”.

Details of the UK-wide investigation have yet to be finalised, and consultations will take place with those people affected as to how best to proceed.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “Jeremy Hunt said that 2,400 people had died and it was necessary to establish the causes of this appalling injustice.”

The announcement follows a joint call by six opposition political party leaders for a Hillsborough-style inquiry into what happened.

•Were you affected by the contaminated blood scandal? Email or call 0207 433 0123.