The government has announced that a ‘full statutory inquiry’ will be launched into the contaminated blood scandal in which approximately 7500 people were given blood products that were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV during the 1970s and 1980s, leaving 2400 dead.
The decision to launch the inquiry comes following pressure from the victims and their families in addition to calls from the Welsh Assembly to launch a UK government inquiry and pressure from the former health minister Andy Burnham. The inquiry will be the responsibility of the Cabinet Office, headed by Damian Green, the first secretary of state. The decision to have the Cabinet Office lead the inquiry rather than the Department of Health was made due to concerns that it could essentially be investigating itself.
The victims and their families were given the option of having a public inquiry similar to that of the Hillsborough Inquiry but instead opted for a full judge-led statutory inquiry in the hope of establishing the truth.
Many of the victims suffered from haemophilia, a rare bleeding disorder that affects the blood’s ability to clot. The Haemophilia Society welcomed the inquiry, saying it would be;
“…a turning point in helping victims of this scandal finally get the justice they have long deserved.”
The scandal originated in the 70s. Drug companies discovered that they could take clotting properties from blood plasma and freeze-dry them into powder. There was a huge demand which led to pharmaceutical companies seeking supplies of blood. In the US, drug addicts and prisoners were amongst those who donated their blood (some being paid to do so) and many donations were mixed together leading to a higher risk of infection. The UK imported most of its blood from the US.
Prior to 1991, blood donations were not screened, meaning that anyone receiving a blood transfusion before this time was at risk of infection.
Today blood is routinely tested for Hepatitis C and HIV.
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