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Labour MP Says Justice For Infected Blood Victims Has Been Hindered By Ministerial "Churn"

Diana Johnson and Glen Wilkinson, who has been affected by the Infected Blood scandal

5 min read

Labour MP Diana Johnson has said political instability in recent years has been an obstacle to victims of the contaminated blood scandal achieving justice and receiving compensation.

The Infected Blood Inquiry was set up under former prime minister Theresa May in 2017 and its findings will be published on Monday. During the 1970s and 1980s, more than 30,000 patients were injected with blood contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C. Haemophiliacs were exposed to the crisis as they were dependent on blood transfusions to help their blood clot. Ministers at the time were struggling to meet soaring demand for blood clotting agents, so imported a large number of batches from the US.

Factor VIII was a blood product to help clotting and prevent bleeding. But when it was imported it was not checked for viruses such as HIV or Hep C. The victims' families have recently said doctors underwent experiments to see the risk imported Factor VIII had on patients. 

The issue is widely considered to be the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service, with more than 30,000 people developing blood infections after being given contaminated blood products.

Johnson, MP for Kingston upon Hull North and Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, alongside the Sunday Times, has campaigned for justice for the victims for decades. Since the inquiry was launched seven years ago, Johnson has claimed ministerial change triggered by chaos in Westminster has been a barrier to seeking justice.

There have been three different Conservative governments since the last general election, led by Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, and since 2017 there have been nine paymaster generals who have overseen or been involved in the inquiry.

“We've had so much churn in terms of ministers in the Cabinet Office. That's been really problematic,” Johnson told PoliticsHome.

Former paymaster generals include Mel Stride, Jesse Norman, Oliver Dowden, Penny Mordaunt, Michael Ellis, Edward Argar, Chris Philip, Jeremy Quin. The current Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office is John Glen, who was appointed to the position in November. 

Johnson said Glen was a “decent man” but that victims of the scandal had found it difficult to engage and trust politicians after the trauma they had suffered. “This group of people have been so let down over so many years,” she said.

Johnson said victims of the crisis and their families have been “very reluctant” to engage with Government after the trauma and pain they have suffered. 

“The way Government operates is not helpful to building trust with those who've been harmed,” she said. “We’ve had a succession of paymaster generals, to be really frank with you, who've done very little in preparation. And I’m very critical of some of those paymaster generals who sat back and did nothing.”

Johnson became heavily involved in campaigning for the inquiry and a resolution when a constituent came to her office in 2010 prior to the general election that year.

Glen Wilkinson was a mild haemophiliac and had received “dirty blood” and developed Hepatitis C which had a huge effect on his life..

“There was a complete refusal to accept anything that that had happened, was negligent or wrong. And so in those early years, because Government was basically refusing to accept the need for public inquiry,” Johnson said.

The Government in 2022 gave £100,000 to victims who were signed up to the UK Infected Blood Support Scheme. However, another group of people who have not received any money are the children who lost their parents.

Sir Brian Langstaff, who is the Chair of the Inquiry, has called for the interim payments to be extended. 

When asked whether this inquiry could raise serious questions over public trust in the NHS, Johnson said: “People will be shocked that an institution that we all hold in such high regard, could harm so many people. And then for years deny it.”

Johnson said governments of all stripes were responsible for not resolving this issue quickly enough.  

“My criticism is of all governments. All governments have failed on this. Ministers have failed on this," she said. 

“Whilst the Conservative government can claim credit for having set up the public inquiry, what I would say is we have to fight for that.

“John Glen [the minister] will say that they are trying to act as quickly as possible, and I think they've already recruited an interim chief executive for the new compensation body.

“They're going out to recruit the chair, so they are trying to get ahead of the game here."

Johnson said the inquiry's findings were about to come at a time of great political uncertainty. A general election is widely expected to take place in Autumn, potentially giving the Sunak Government just a matter of months to press ahead with any recommendations. 

The Labour MP was successful in tabling an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill which has not yet been enacted.

The new clause, which won the support of more than 20 Tory MPs, will put into law that an independent body must be established and begin paying compensation to those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal within three months of the act passing.

Johnson said pushing ahead with a compensation package should be a priority for Prime Minister Sunak and could help to cement his legacy. 

“There’s all sorts of reasons why this is a really precarious time in politics. Rishi Sunak is having a terrible time," she added. 

"This would be a very positive legacy for him if he could say: 'I was the prime minister who got this sorted, who got the compensation bodies set up and got money out to people'.

“The lesson I’ve learned from this, as an MP, is persistence. Because if the Government keeps saying no, no, no, you just persist." 

Johnson said this was a lesson and template for prospective MPs entering Parliament, particularly female MPs passionate for a cause.

“It was Ken Clarke who said about [Theresa May] being a bloody difficult woman. I think there's something in bloody difficult women just persist, persist, persist!”

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