Repairing damage of NHS blood saga is long overdue - We call on government to act
- Credit: PA
Our investigation has highlighted the many ways local victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal continue to be failed decades on. Now investigations editor David Powles outlines the improvements badly needed
You would be hard pressed to find a group of people as repeatedly let down by the state as the thousands affected by the contaminated blood scandal.
This failure runs deep and is a scar on the good work that those tasked with serving the public so often do.
Go back to the start and a series of ill-judged decisions have ultimately set so many families down a path that no-one would want to contend with.
Families like husband and wife Stan and Brenda Buzer, of Kingsley Close, Dagenham. At 81 Brenda is dying of liver failure caused by hepatitis C (hep C) that she believes she contracted from tainted NHS blood transfusions following a miscarriage decades ago.
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Or Angela Farrugia, who lost three of her brothers to HIV and hep C, including Dagenham resident Barry Farrugia. They were all infected through blood products used to treat the blood clotting disorder haemophilia.
Or Chris Myers whose late-husband Peter died just three weeks after he was diagnosed with hep C in 2001, most likely contracted from blood he was given following a road accident in the 1970s.
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For whatever reason, be it to save cash or with good intentions at heart, the decision of the British government to import and use unchecked blood and blood products in the UK right up until 1991 was a terrible mistake.
But for those products to continue to be used for several years after the potential dangers were known is nothing short of neglect.
If, since then, all had been done to make the lives of those poisoned as simple and pain-free as possible, this would probably be a matter that could be consigned to the history books. But this stain lingers.
While it may be too late for criminal prosecution to be brought against anyone found to have been involved in those early, ill-fated decisions, it is entirely understandable that campaigners feel bitter at a lack of accountability.
We welcome the government’s pledge to make historical documents relating to the issue available to public scrutiny through the National Archive.
However, all that may end up doing is adding to campaigners sense of injustice, should they be able to read of the many failings that have impacted on their lives, but not feel that anything can be or has been done.
There has been an All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into the financial support provided to victims – but we support the campaign group’s calls for a public inquiry into the events that led to the tragedies to ensure lessons are learned.
The least these people deserve is to have their day in a public forum.
But what good is such an inquiry if sufferers and their families have to continue to live in poverty because illnesses caused by government mistakes make them unable to provide for themselves? In the Republic of Ireland, victims received an acceptable lump sum payment for their agony and pain, along with regular support. That should happen in England too.
It is estimated such a payout would cost £1.5billion, roughly the same compensation given to victims of the Equitable Life financial scandal. Sir Edward Leigh MP, was right when he said in January’s House of Commons debate on the issue: “We caused this and we have to put it right.”
On top of this, consistent levels of financial support need to be given to hep C sufferers, no matter how serious the government believes their health problems to be. That also needs to apply to widows and families.
And with the government’s own figures suggesting the true scale of this problem is not yet known, an awareness campaign to spread knowledge is essential, as is adoption of one of the recommendations from Scotland’s Penrose Inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal - that anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991 should be tested for hep C if they have not already done so.
It is too late for the devastation caused by this scandal to be undone. But, with a new government in place, it’s about time some of the damage was at least repaired.
See next week’s Barking and Dagenham Post: How safe are blood banks today?