AIDS campaign was ‘not seen as a priority’ by Margaret Thatcher

Norman Fowler was health secretary under prime minister Margaret Thatcher

Norman Fowler was health secretary under prime minister Margaret Thatcher - Credit: Stefania Di Cio'/PA

The inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal has heard that AIDS “was not seen as a priority in the Treasury or at number 10” at its height.

Lord Norman Fowler, health secretary from 1981 to 1987, gave evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry for a second day on Wednesday (September 22).

He said the Treasury was "completely stony faced" when it came to the HIV/AIDS campaign.

Questioned about providing extra funding for the HIV/AIDS campaign, he said: “the Treasury took the view that they weren't in business for actually spending more money, and if they can make reductions they would.

“Of course, what they were totally reassured by was that Number 10 and the prime minister didn't take it as a priority either.”

The inquiry is investigating how and why patients – including at the Royal Free Hospital – received infected blood products, leading to thousands contracting HIV, Aids and/or hepatitis during the 1970s and 1980s.

Lord Fowler said: “It was a policy laid down by the Treasury that we weren't going to offer compensation to people who contracted AIDS in that way.

“It was a hopeless case, I'm afraid, because they took in the view that, if we agreed to this, then the floodgates would be open.”

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Lord Fowler defended the AIDS awareness campaign which started in 1985 saying “it was probably one of the most successful public education campaigns since the war”.

The advertising slogan “don't die of ignorance” has come under criticism for the effect it could have had on people infected due to NHS treatment. 

Lord Fowler told the inquiry: “Yes, that impact was considered. But the number one priority was to warn the public that the dangers from HIV and AIDS were very substantial.”

When raising the issue that HIV screening was introduced in other countries – including the US – before the UK, Fowler said that unreliable testing could have cost “public confidence in the system”. 

Mark Ward, a former Royal Free patient who is one of the victims of the scandal, said: “The Treasury refusing to fund a public health crisis is absolutely dreadful.

“In 1982 Margaret Thatcher took us to war over the Falkland islands. They found money for war but not for protecting the blood supply. They just kept importing products which they knew had hepatitis  viruses and other pathogens.”