This week has seen the first week of the inquiry looking into how thousands of people were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood they were given in the 1970s and 1980s.
About 5,000 people with haemophilia, a genetic condition that prevents blood from clotting properly, were infected when they were given blood products to help their blood clot. More than 2,000 are already thought to have died as a result and thousands more may have been exposed through blood transfusions after an operation or childbirth. As many as 30,000 people may have been infected in total and the scandal has been called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
The blood product was a treatment introduced in the early 1970s. Britain however was struggling to keep up with demand for the treatment - known as clotting agent Factor VIII - and so supplies were imported from the US. However much of the human blood plasma used to make the product came from donors such as prison inmates, who sold their blood.
This is the first UK-wide public inquiry that can compel witnesses to testify. It comes after decades of campaigning by victims, who claim the risks were never explained to them and the scandal was subsequently covered up. The government has been strongly criticised for dragging its heels and have admitted they should have held the inquiry earlier.
Evidence is currently being given by a number of victims about how the infection has affected their lives. The inquiry chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff describes the accounts as ‘harrowing’ ‘moving’ and ‘chilling’.
The inquiry is expected to last 2 years to enable victims to put forward their stories and the government is currently providing financial support to the victims in the sum of £75 million. However with some many victims, the money amounts to only approximately £2,500.00 per person.