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2400 deaths: Britain’s collective public, corporate, medical and political failure

Britain’s political-corporate circles deliberately failed to give fair compensation to thousands of NHS patients who received contaminated blood. But France, Japan, Italy and other countries put those responsible for their contaminated blood supplies on trial.

Medics and politicians knew by the mid1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. See: Risk, science and the politics of the blood scandals in Ireland, Scotland, England and Finland  (page 4) which cited:

  • the Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada’, (Ottawa, 1997),
  • National Academy of Science 1975 (WHO partner)
  • and the World Health Assembly, Resolution 28.72. (Geneva, 1975).

The World Health Organisation had warned the UK not to import blood from countries that paid donors and had a high incidence of hepatitis, such as the US. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless, these products continued to be imported and used. Successive governments refused to hold a public inquiry into what went wrong.

Lord Archer held a privately-funded, independent inquiry it took months for this government to reply to its findings.

The Haemophilia Society: https://slideplayer.com/slide/4794472/,slide 5

 The blood industry proved to be a powerful lobby and nothing was done 

Many manufacturers supplied clotting factor products to the UK during the mid-1970s and 1980s which infected haemophiliacs with life-threatening viruses. Armour’s Factorate was the most used product, with Baxter’s Hemofil, Immuno’s Kryobulin and Bayer-owned Cutter’s Koate following, see paragraph 21.332: “Final Report: Chapter 19 – Production of Blood Products – Facilities”.

The Penrose Inquiry (Chapter 5) recorded that in the 70s, Dr J Garrott Allen found that the incidence of Hepatitis among haemophilia patients was related to the increase in the use of prison plasma and “Skid Row” inhabitants, “whose use of alcohol, drugs and unsterilised needles made them prime hepatitis carriers”.  His findings, published in the journal “California Medicine”, provoked a national debate but “the blood industry constituted a powerful lobby, and nothing was done” – or as the Haemophilia Society (page 19) put it: “Although a great deal of evidence was clearly documented in the report, no useful recommendations were made.” 

Over 2400 of the people who were given contaminated blood have now died and MP Diana Johnson (left) asked for an urgent Commons debate in 2017 – recorded here. She had to get six leaders of opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry before Theresa May finally announced a public inquiry into how thousands of people became infected with HIV and hepatitis.

The MP for Stratford on Avon said: “Many victims—this is certainly true of my constituent, Clare Walton—initially did not want an inquiry; they wanted a settlement”.

The BBC reported that Eleanor Grey QC, speaking on behalf of the Department for Health and Social Care in England (and its predecessor which covered the whole of the UK), apologised for the infected blood scandal.

”At worst, a cover up or, at best, a lack of candour about past events”: Eleanor Grey QC

Many of the relevant records had disappeared. Former Health Secretary Patrick Jenkin and former Health Minister David Owen both searched the departmental archives, but were told that the documents had been accidentally destroyed. The British Medical Journal records that the public inquiry, which opened in September, was told in a preliminary hearing that the UK government engaged in a cover-up and in some cases the NHS altered or destroyed the medical records of patients who received blood products infected with HIV and hepatitis C in the 1970s and 1980s.

A Private Eye journalist, after giving a detailed account of the tragedy, ended: “If the government wants to demonstrate just how sincere its apology really is, it might take a leaf out of the Irish government’s book and pay survivors proper compensation and ensure priority healthcare, in recognition that their injuries were caused by the NHS. And do this before the inquiry resumes in earnest next spring.” 

But ultimately, as Sunita Narain points out re the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal, it is a collective failure: as in other cases, the British public have not expressed the level of outrage needed to shame the government into action.

 

 

 

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