Last month the Prime Minister confirmed a UK-wide inquiry is to be held into the contaminated blood scandal, a disaster which she described as “an appalling tragedy which should never have happened”. The questions many people are asking now are – Just how widespread was the problem and why has it taken this long to be properly investigated?
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s thousands of people in Britain were given blood that had been imported from abroad. What they didn’t know was that the blood they were being given had been donated by people who were infected with HIV and hepatitis C.
Evidence has emerged that officials in the Department of Health were aware in the 1970’s that there was a danger of hepatitis C being present in some blood products. The presence of HIV was also known early as 1983, but despite this information contaminated blood was still being given to patients. A recent parliamentary report found that in all around 7,500 British patients were given the infected blood. Of those, 2,400 people are known to have died as a result.
There have been campaigns lobbying the government to act as far back as the early 1990’s, but it wasn’t until an independent inquiry was set up in 2007 by Lord Morris of Manchester that the issue received any major coverage.
Earlier this year former Health Minister Andy Burnham commented that the incident had been a “criminal cover up on an industrial scale” and six political party leaders in Westminster signed a joint letter which called the scandal “one of the worst peacetime disasters in our country’s history”.
Now, over 40 years since the first infected blood was given to patients, the government is finally taking action to establish the causes behind one of the darkest episodes in the story of the NHS.
The inquiry will look at new evidence that has come to light, and it will examine allegations of potential illegality in respect of the original negligence and the widespread cover-up that ensued. The Prime Minister has said that “the government will work with the victims and their families to decide what form this inquiry should take so their voices are heard and they finally get the answers and justice they have spent decades waiting for”.