Horror report slams ‘cover-up’ that left 30k contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C

Governments and the NHS covered up the truth while documents were deliberately destroyed in the worst treatment disaster in the history of the health service.

The Infected Blood Inquiry reports the truth has been “hidden for decades” as governments “closed ranks and denied wrongdoing” while lives were destroyed. In a damning final report – spanning 2,570 pages – Inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff says the disaster was “not an accident” and “could largely, though not entirely, have been avoided”.

He concludes: “Standing back, and viewing the response of the NHS and the government overall, the answer to the question ‘was there a cover up?’ is that there has been. Not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications. In this way there has been a hiding of much of the truth.”

Andy Evans, chair of the Tainted Blood campaign group, said: “Today is a momentous day – sometimes we felt we were shouting into the wind.” He said he feels “validated and vindicated” by the report, adding: “We’ve been glaslit for generations.” Clive Smith, chair of the Haemophilia Society, said: “Today sees the victory of truth over power.”

Over 30,000 people in the UK were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after being given contaminated blood and blood products between the 1970s and early 1990s. The scandal is estimated to have so far cost one in ten of the victims their lives while others, who have campaigned for decades for justice, have suffered life-long health impacts.

One victim, Rob Brown, shared a photo with the Mirror which he believes shows the moment he was infected with hepatitis C

One victim, Rob Brown, shared a photo with the Mirror which he believes shows the moment he was infected with hepatitis C

Sir Brian’s report details how the harms done to the victims were made worse by the absence of any meaningful apology and redress. He also hit out at the “misleading and defensive lines to take which cruelly told people that they had received the best treatment available”.

This included a claim from Margaret Thatcher in 1989 at a No10 meeting in which she resisted compensation claims and stated the “position was” people infected with HIV from blood products had “been given the best treatment available”.

Sir Brian reports three separate sets of documents were lost or destroyed. They relate to the HIV litigation, minutes and papers from the Advisory Committee on the Virological Safety of Blood – ACVSB – and the Private Office papers of Lord David Owen, who was a health and social security minister between 1974 and 1976.

The report states there has “never been a satisfactory explanation for any of these losses”. It adds: “Though there is insufficient evidence to conclude that they are necessarily linked, it is possible that at least the first two might be – since in each case what seems to have gone missing was documentation relating to the areas in which the government was most vulnerable to an adverse finding”.

Sir Brian said that among the missing three sets of documents the ACVSB papers are the ones “known to have been deliberately destroyed”. He added: “That is , a decision was made (by someone) that that was to happen, and it did.

Campaigners have been fighting for justice for years

Campaigners have been fighting for justice for years, with the report today confirming the truth was kept hidden
AFP via Getty Images)

“The destruction was not an accident, nor the result of flood, fire or vermin. The immediate reason for destruction was human choice. Someone, for some reason, had chosen to have those documents destroyed. The reason is not apparent. It is not self-evident.”

After five years of taking evidence Sir Brian detailed a catalogue of failures at all levels, saying: “Each on its own is serious. Taken together they are a calamity.” His report states infections leading to deaths and suffering “were caused needlessly to people with bleeding disorders” by failures in the licensing regime of blood products.

This included allowing the import and distribution from 1973 of blood products – Factor 8 – from the US and Australia “which carried a high risk of cause hepatitis, and were understood to be less safe” than UK treatments.

It blasts the decision in July 1983 not to suspend importation of commercially produced blood products – and then failing to keep the decision under review. Despite being known that the risk of viral transmission would increase there was also a decision to increase the size of pools used to manufacture the blood products in the UK.

On blood transfusions, the report concludes there was a failure to ensure careful and rigorous donor selection and screening to exclude higher risk donors. UK blood services continued to collect blood from prisoners until 1984 – despite the risks being well known.

In some cases victims were not informed they were infected – which denied them the chance to control their own illness and prevent the spread to others. Shockingly, the report states research was also conducted on people, including children, without telling them or even informing them of the risks involved.

Some children, it says, were treated at the haemophilia centre Treloar’s with “multiple, riskier, commercial concentrates… and objects for research”. The health service, it adds, was also too slow to respond to the risk of AIDS and complacent about the risks associated with Hepatitis C.

Sir Brian added: “This disaster was not an accident. The infections happened because those in authority – doctors, the blood services and successive governments – did not put patients’ safety first. The response of those in authority served to compound people’s suffering.

“The government is right to accept that compensation must be paid. Now is the time for national recognition of this disaster and for proper compensation to all those who have been wronged.”

The Inquiry chairman’s main recommendation is that a compensation scheme for victims should be set up immediately and formal apology from the Government. He also suggests a permanent national memorial to recognise and remember the victims of the scandal.