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Rishi Sunak Issues "Unequivocal" Apology To Infected Blood Victims After Devastating Inquiry Concludes

Rishi Sunak addresses the House of Commons (Alamy)

5 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has issued an "unequivocal" apology to infected blood victims after the damning findings of a major multi-year inquiry were published on Monday.

The Infected Blood Inquiry was set up under former prime minister Theresa May in 2017 after more than 30,000 patients were injected with blood and blood products contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  A large amount of blood clotting agents from infected commercial donors were imported from the US. More than 3,000 people have died. 

With a sombre statement to the House of Commons on Monday, the Prime Minister apologised on behalf of the British state for the "institutional refusal to face up to these failings, and worse, to deny, and even attempt to cover them up".

"This is a day of shame for the British state. Today's report shows a decade's long moral failure at the heart of our national life," he said

"From the National Health Service to the civil service to ministers in successive governments, at every level, the people and institutions in which we place our trust failed in the most harrowing and devastating way.

"They failed the victims and their families, and they failed this country."

A 2,527-page report by inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff published on Monday stated that there were "systematic" collective and individual failures at the heart of the crisis. The author found that the scandal could "largely, though not entirely, have been avoided". It made a list of several recommendations which included compensation, a suitable national memorial, as well as a memorial to the Treloar school victims. 

"I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice. First, to apologise for the failure in blood policy and blood products and the devastating and so often fatal impact that's had on so many lives, including the impact of treatments that were known or proved to be contaminated," Sunak told MPs in response. 

"The failure to respond to the risk of imported concentrates the failure to prioritise self sufficiency and blood the failure to introduce screening services sooner and the mismanagement of the response to the emergence of AIDS and hepatitis viruses amongst infected blood vessels.

"Second, to apologise for the repeated failure of the state and our medical professionals to recognise the harm caused.

"This includes the failure of previous payment schemes the inadequate levels of funding made available and the failure to recognise Hepatitis B victims. And third, to apologise for the institutional refusal to face up to these failings and worse, to deny and even attempt to cover them up."

A compensation package will be set out on Tuesday by the Government. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the contaminated blood scandal was an "injustice" which has "spanned across governments on an unprecedented scale".

Starmer said he acknowledged that the suffering felt by the victims and those affected was caused by "wrongdoing, delay and systemic failure across the board".

"Make no mistake, the victims in this scandal have suffered unspeakably, thousands of people have died," Starmer said. 

"They continue to die every week. lives completely shattered. Evidence willfully destroyed. victims, marginalised people watching their loved ones die. Children used as objects of research on and on, the pain barely conceivable.

"As well as an apology, I also want to make clear, we commit that we will shine a harsh light upon the lessons that must be learned to make sure nothing like this ever happens again."

The report found pupils of Treloar School, a college for children with haemophilia, were used for "objects for research" and were given infected blood products. It is thought that 75 of the boys who were infected have now died. It added there was an "attitude of denial" towards the risks of the blood products which were given to the victims. There was a failure to ensure blood from each donor was "sufficiently" screened.The report also stated thatey findings of the inquiry included the public and patients were falsely reassured the blood which was given out did not carry AIDS. 

The report found that the health service was conducting research on patients without consent. In other instances patients were not told they were infected and were therefore denied the opportunity to slow the progression of their own illness. There were examples where victims were not informed of their infections for weeks, months and sometimes years.

Many of the victims' mental health was compromised, according to testimony accompanying the report One man self-harmed after he had tested positive for HIV at the age of 15. He accused the NHS of "lying" to him throughout the process. 

“The cause of my symptoms still remains which is: the infections, the symptoms caused by the infections, the fact that I know that the NHS has been lying to me, the fact that I have to live on benefits due to my health conditions," he said.

The report found that a "culture of paternalism" and a “doctor-knows-best” attitude may explain some of the ethical failures. However it said that it did not "excuse or justify them."

On Sunday Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North and Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told PoliticsHome the inquiry could raise serious questions over public trust in the NHS.

“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”, she said.

The contaminated blood scandal is widely considered to be the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service, which was established in 1948. More than 30,000 people developed blood infections after being given contaminated blood products.

 

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