Chris Stephens MP: No liability has ever been admitted in the UK for the contaminated blood scandal
Denials, cover-ups and delays have led to obstructive and ignorant treatment of contaminated blood scandal campaigners, says Chris Stephens MP.
Before I was elected, I was slightly aware of the issue of contaminated blood and believed that it had something to do with transfusions that had caused serious illness and death amongst those in the UK who were receiving treatment for haemophilia. I freely admit that my knowledge of the scale and cause of the scandal was a bit vague and limited, but when one of my constituents, Cathy Young, contacted me to tell me her story I soon discovered how misinformed I was and resolved to work with her and other campaigners who seek justice and restitution - not only for the initial wrong that infected thousands in the UK with AIDS and hepatitis C, but also the compounding of their pain by denials, cover-ups and delays.
It was the use of blood clotting products in the 1970’s and 1980’s such as Factor 8 (derived from paid donors largely from the US, with no reliable screening for infections) that caused illness and death. Over 75% of those who received treatment from those products developed infections, and the sheer folly of tainted blood products being used even when the risks were becoming known is a monstrous injustice inflicted on those who only sought treatment for their condition and trusted medical professionals with their lives. Obviously the families of those infected have also suffered and experienced not only loss but also the pain of finding out after their loved one’s death that files have gone missing or that a diagnosis of alcohol related death was recorded for someone who never drank alcohol.
No liability has ever been admitted in the UK, and the long struggle for recognition and appropriate recompense is an all too familiar saga for any campaigners seeking the truth from whatever institution or profession that works harder to protect its own rather than admit the truth to those who have suffered.
The first statutory inquiry in the UK was established by the Scottish Government, however it did not have the power to summon witnesses from outside Scotland, and given that health policy was not devolved until 1999 was always operating within limits. The conclusions of the Penrose Inquiry were modest and did not apportion blame.
I joined the All Parliamentary Group on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood to support my constituents who are pursuing the issue beyond the Penrose Inquiry and ensure the it remains on the political agenda to seek answers and justice for those affected and push for a UK wide inquiry.
On July 11th last year, the PM finally announced an inquiry would be held and along with other MP’s I’ve been pushing for more information about how this will be conducted, and on the 2nd July this year the terms of reference have been announced. The 12 month delay between this and the initial announcement is indicative of the frustratingly slow nature of the process, and in the meantime people are dying, day by day.
A serious concern shared by campaigners is that this inquiry will be beset by even more delays as a result of what is known as the “Maxwellisation” process. Taking its name from Robert Maxwell this is the legal procedure that allows persons who are to be criticised in an official report to respond prior to publication and led to significant delays in the Chilcot Inquiry.
It is understandable that the Tainted Blood campaigners are concerned that further obstacles are going to be put in the way of achieving the justice they deserve, and meaningful restitution beyond grudgingly one-off payments, hedged about with conditions and without any real recognition of the suffering and loss that far too many people and their families have suffered over the decades. Along with many of my fellow MP’s I will always support the campaigners who deserve better than than the obstructive and ignorant treatment they have endured so far in their search for real justice.
Chris Stephens is SNP MP for Glasgow South West.