Victim of NHS ‘killer blood’ left in poverty as David Cameron pledge expires

Philip Wellman contracted Hepatitus C after being given a batch of 'killer blood'

Philip Wellman contracted Hepatitus C after being given a batch of 'killer blood' - Credit: Archant

A pensioner who was among thousands infected by contaminated blood, in a scandal described by health experts as “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”, is facing Christmas living in poverty as a pledge by the prime minister to properly compensate victims expired this week.

Philip Wellman says his more than 40-year battle with Hepatitis C has reached “a tipping point” as he faces the winter without heating or electricity. He is unable to afford a plane ticket to see his wife, child and grandchildren in his hometown of Hampstead.

It comes after the 68-year-old was involved in a car crash in the early 1970s and became one of more than 5,000 given “killer blood” transfusions by the NHS.

The tainted batch, like many supplied to patients during the 1970s and 1980s, was imported by the Department of Health from US pharmaceutical companies due to supply shortages.

A recent privately-funded inquiry, led by the government’s former solicitor general Lord Peter Archer, found many batches of this blood came from drug addicts, sex workers and other criminals incarcerated in US prisons. The practice continued, it was alleged, “long after alarms had been sounded”.

With the blood riddled with deadly viruses like Hepatitis C and HIV, more than 2,000 of the infected are said to have since died as a result.

Many were infected at the Royal Free Hospital’s haemophiliac centre in Hampstead and the affair has been branded by MPs as “the last major, unclosed government scandal”.

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As campaigners continue to accuse the government of an “enormous cover-up”, Mr Wellman says he is hoping David Cameron will “do the right thing” and give survivors proper compensation.

He told the Ham&High: “What the government did to us, and what they’re still doing to us, is horrendous – people would be in disbelief if they knew the story.

“I used to run a successful heating and plumbing business while living with my wife in Belsize Grove and now I can’t even heat my own home.

“The prison blood I was infected with forced me to quit my job, meaning I had to sell my house and move to the middle of nowhere in France where housing is cheaper.

“I now can’t afford to see my wife and daughter, let alone buy my grandchildren Christmas presents. I’m at my wits end.

“Us campaigners just want the government to give us the compensation we deserve so we can provide for our families after we’ve died.”

Successive governments going back to the days when Harold Wilson was prime minister have refused to hold a judicial inquiry into the disaster.

Lord Archer’s 2011 report, which did not have statutory powers, deemed the “horrific human tragedy” avoidable, and said the affair saw “commercial interests take precedence over public health concerns”.

Alistair Burt MP, a prominent campaigner for those affected, said: “This is one of the last unclosed, government scandals.

“We’ve had the Hillsborough Report, the investigations into Bloody Sunday – it’s not wrong to think of this in the same context. We need answers.

“Trying to bring all this together is not easy but I’m hoping the government will make some kind of announcement soon.

“While I think a full judicial inquiry is probably unlikely, we need someone from the government answering questions.”

One individual infected at the Royal Free, a haemophiliac who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C, was just a child when he was told.

Wishing to remain anonymous because of the anti-AIDS abuse he was subject to growing up, he said: “I was 12-years-old when they told me I had HIV.

“A nurse in the Royal Free centre’s foyer came up to me and said I had been infected with HIV. I didn’t know what it meant.

“Later I joined an assembly line of other infected children and was taken into an office to be told I had just three years to live.

“It sounds like a totally unbelievable story, but this happened to us. And there’s been no proper inquiry, documents ‘accidentally’ destroyed and nobody wanting to talk.

“It’s shocking.”

In Scotland, an inquiry is currently under way into the affair and how it affected patients in Scotland.

The Penrose Inquiry is in the final stages of its report, currently issueing warning letters to individuals and organisations likely to be named.

Six months ago David Cameron made a verbal pledge to a constituent infected by contaminated blood to “sort out” proper compensation for victims in England.

While some funding has been provided, this has been done via charitable trusts rather than direct to each victim, leading to the annoyance of those infected having to go “cap in hand” to receive money.

Campaigners have also complained much of this money has failed to materialise.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “In 2011, we announced a package of measures to provide more support for those affected, but we know that some people remain unhappy with the current system and we are looking carefully at what more could be done.”

A spokesman for the Royal Free added: “Doctors at the Royal Free Hospital took great care to deliver diagnoses to the affected patients in a sensitive and compassionate manner, in consultation with experts from within the hospital and the national and international arena.

“The patients were also offered psychological support when they were given their diagnosis and this support for patients continues to the present day.”