Infected blood victims ‘truly lived through worst of times’, public inquiry told
Victims of the contaminated blood scandal feel “righteous anger” and are “right to demand change and right to demand restitution”, the final day of a long-running public inquiry has heard.
Sam Stein KC, representing 23 people affected by infected blood or blood products, including relatives who supported a partner through terminal illness, told the Infected Blood Inquiry that they had “truly lived through the worst of times.”
The independent inquiry was ordered six years ago by then Prime Minister Theresa May to look into the circumstances in which men, women and children treated by health services were given infected blood, in particular since 1970.
Chaired by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff, the inquiry is also examining the support provided to patients following infection, questions of consent, and whether there was a cover-up.
In the final closing submissions to the inquiry on Friday, after almost four years of evidence heard around the UK, Mr Stein said of the victims he represents: “Our clients have been infected, affected and killed by this scandal.
“Our clients’ lives have been devastated and derailed by their and their loved ones’ exposure to infected blood products.”
Mr Stein told the hearing in London: “They have truly lived through the worst of times – the stigma, the fear, the endless desperate day-to-day ill health, the pain, the brain fog and continual sleep deprivation.”
The barrister said many of his team’s clients were campaigners who had fought for justice and truth, and “if ignored” had “knocked on another door”.
Mr Stein told the inquiry: “They never stopped and without them – and this needs recognition – this inquiry would never have happened.
“All of our clients are passionate, unrelenting and angry but this is a righteous anger. This is the righteous anger of the ignored, the side-lined and the discriminated (against).
“We don’t apologise for our clients’ visceral anger. We don’t apologise for their desire for truth and for proper compensation for the damage done to them.
“Instead let me be pin-point clear – they are right to be angry, and they are right to demand compensation, right to demand change and right to demand restitution.”
Mr Stein also claimed the responses of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) during the inquiry had shown an “absolute lack of candour” and a failure “to realise that apologies must mean something”.
In its submissions to the inquiry last month, the Government said interim compensation payments of about £400 million showed it accepts its “moral responsibility” to help victims.
Eleanor Grey KC, for the DHSC, told the inquiry on January 18 that the hearings had “given a powerful voice” to patients harmed by contaminated blood treatments and to their loved ones.
The DHSC’s written closing submissions to the inquiry, dated December 16 last year, said the department accepted that “things happened that should not have happened” and that no statements made on its behalf should detract from its “unreserved” apology.
In ordering the inquiry in 2017, Mrs May described the impact of infected products as an “appalling tragedy which should simply never have happened”.
An estimated 2,400 patients died after being infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
Most of those involved had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and were given injections of the US product Factor VIII.
Thousands of adults and approximately 380 children received infected blood products or transfusions during treatment by the NHS, the inquiry has heard.
After Mr Stein’s closing address was applauded by many of those attending the hearing, counsel to the inquiry Jenni Richards KC said: “The events which gave rise to this inquiry have memorably been described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service.”
Ms Richards added that the scope of the inquiry was unprecedented in its scale – with tens of thousands infected – and in its timeframe and geography.
Adjourning the inquiry, Sir Brian said the final report would “not be short” and would not be complete before the autumn.
The inquiry chairman also said he intended to make a further interim report about the “framework” for compensation, which he hoped would be ready before Easter.
Sir Brian, who heard live evidence from 370 witnesses over 286 days, said: “Many of the submissions, in writing or orally, asked me to make another interim report about compensation.
“I will need to reflect on the submissions – especially those that point out that as little time as possible should be lost before finalising arrangements for compensation.
“I want to tell you that I have written to the Paymaster General to inform him of my intention to make a further interim report about the framework for compensation.
“I anticipate that I will be in a position to do so before Easter, if not earlier.”
In a statement, the Haemophilia Society said the final submissions marked another milestone in the long road towards truth and justice.
The campaign group said the inquiry had exposed the depth of suffering, pain and hardship caused by the contaminated blood scandal, a “shockingly slow and complacent” response to known health risks in the 1970s and 1980s, and a refusal by those in power to accept responsibility for what went wrong.
Kate Burt, chief executive of the Haemophilia Society, said: “The immense suffering caused by this avoidable NHS treatment disaster has been deepened by decades of denial from successive governments who have failed to accept responsibility for what happened.
“Evidence to the inquiry clearly shows that many infections and deaths could have been prevented if government had responded more quickly to known risks in blood and blood products used as treatment in the UK in the 1970s and 80s.
“Government must address mistakes of the past by acknowledging what went wrong and committing to pay full compensation to those infected and their families.”