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British govt apologises to its citizens as report reveals how NHS infected them with HIV, Hepatitis contaminated blood, then covered up its mistake

On 20th May, during an address to the House of Commons, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued an official heartfelt apology for the UK NHS’s infected blood scandal. The scandal that began in the 1970s has been termed as one of the biggest injustices done to the people of the UK in British medical history.

The apology from the current PM of the UK came after a report revealed that the government of the United Kingdom purposefully covered up the scandal. The report also pointed out there were systemic failures that led to the infection of 30,000 people with HIV and hepatitis. Around 3,000 people lost their lives untimely as a result of receiving infection.

In his statement, Sunak said, “This is a day of shame for the British state. Today’s report shows a decades-long moral failure at the heart of our national life. I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology.”

Timeline of the Infected Blood Scandal

The report into the infected blood scandal has been submitted by an inquiry panel chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff. The report provided detailed information on the 50 years of negligence in the decision-making process and deliberate concealment of the facts by the UK government. The scandal began in the 1970s and involved using contaminated blood products and transfusions. People suffering from haemophilia and those who underwent surgery and childbirth were the prime victims of the scandal.

1970s-1980s: The onset of the crisis

In the 1970s, the National Health Services (NHS) began using a new treatment for haemophilia that was called Factor VIII. For those who are unaware, haemophilia is a rare genetic condition in which blood fails to clot the way it usually does. People suffering from the disorder may bleed to death if not treated in time even after a small injury.

In Factor VIII treatment, the missing proteins required for blood clotting are replaced using blood products from pooled plasma donations. In this case, the plasma was imported from the United States and it came from high-risk donors including prisoners and drug addicts. These high-risk individuals were paid for the donated blood.

The UK authorities were well aware of the risks but they decided to continue importing these products. The infected blood in the pool led to thousands contracting hepatitis C and HIV.

1982-1986: Ignored warnings and slow response

It was as early as 1982 when warnings were issued about the risks of viral infections from blood products. However, NHS did not pay heed to the warnings and continued the use the imported blood products. It was only in 1985 that NHS started to heat-treat the blood products to eliminate HIV infection. There was also a notable delay in screening for hepatitis C making the UK one of the last developed countries to adopt comprehensive blood testing protocols before using the products derived from it for transfusions.

1987-1990s: Continued negligence and unfortunate cover-up

By this period, both the NHS and the government had recognised the risks but they did not act the way they should have been. There was a lack of openness and accountability on their side. Reports suggested that documents were destroyed and the public was kept in the dark from knowing what happened over decades in the US.

Those who got infected faced significant hurdles in obtaining compensation. They were pressured into signing waivers that prevented them from taking any legal action in the future.

2017: The turning point

It was 2017 when things started to change. Then-Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, announced an inquiry over the Infected Blood scandal. It has to be noted that political pressure and advocacy by victims like Jason Evans played a vital role in the initiation of the inquiry into the matter. Evans lost his father due to infections contracted via contaminated blood.

2018-2023: The inquiry

From 2018 to 2013 the inquiry in the matter was held by the committee chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff. For five years, the panel collected evidence from families, survivors and experts into the matter. There were two interim reports submitted on the matter. The first report was submitted in 2022 and the second one was submitted in 2023, in which the panel recommended compensation that led to interim payments of GBP 100,000 each to around 4,000 survivors and bereaved partners.

Findings and reactions

In inquiry revealed that there was a lack of condemnation from the authorities. They not only failed to protect the patients but also tried to cover up the matter. Sir Brian Langstaff highlighted the “institutional defensiveness” of the NHS, government, and medical community, which compounded the harm. He stated, “Patients were failed not once but repeatedly by those entrusted with their care. The infections happened because those in authority did not put patient safety first.”

The report revealed that the use of blood products from high-risk individuals was used despite the known dangers. There were delays in implementing safety measures and testing protocols. Furthermore, the report revealed that there was a pervasive culture of denial and lack of accountability.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also addressed the House of Commons and described the scandal as one of the gravest injustices to the people of the UK. He echoed the call for comprehensive compensation for the victims.

Independent Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, said, “Lessons have been learned. Action will be taken. The only real lesson that’s been learned has been learned by the public – that they can’t trust government to protect them from unsafe medicines.”

In his address, Prime Minister Sunak pledged that the government would pay “whatever it costs” in compensation to the victims. He added that the detailed plans about the compensations would be unveiled shortly. NHS England’s Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard issued an apology on behalf of the health service. She acknowledged the systemic failures and the long-lasting impact on patients and their families.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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