News Diary

BAD BLOOD INQUIRY

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, 4,800 British hemophiliacs were infected with Hepatitis C through their NHS treatment. 1,200+ of those people were also infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. Hundreds more have died from Hepatitis C.

170 non-hemophiliacs were also infected with HIV and countless infected with Hepatitis C through contaminated blood. Many of those people have also died.

To this day, the British Government has steadfastly refused to hold a public inquiry into this tragedy. Against overwhelming evidence, no fault has ever been admitted by either Government or the pharmaceutical companies who supplied the contaminated blood products. Those living with these horrendous infections, those loved ones who have themselves become infected through victims of this disaster, and the families of those who have died, still have no answers.

Haemophilia is a genetic condition, most often hereditary, although in many cases the genetic abnormality occurs spontaneously. People with hemophilia lack, to varying degrees, the ability to clot their blood, which can result in internal bleeding into joints and muscles, and in more dangerous cases, into internal organs.

This can result in severe pain and be quite debilitating, and sometimes more seriously it can result in organ damage and even death. Treatment for the condition has historically included bed-rest, cooling the affected area, and latterly the replacement of the missing ‘clotting factor’ using donor blood products, such as plasma and cryoprecipitate.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, hemophiliacs began using a revolutionary new product to treat their condition. ‘Factor concentrates’ were heralded as the way forward in hemophilia treatment, and money oriented pharmaceutical companies wasted little time in harvesting blood from the cheapest possible sources in order to make as much of the product as they could.

As hemophiliacs began using the products, it soon became apparent that something was wrong and people began dyingIn their haste to push out as much factor VIII and IX as possible, the pharmaceutical companies had been sourcing donor blood from extremely dubious places and individuals with infectious diseases such as HIV and various strains of Hepatitis were routinely allowed, and in many cases paid, to give blood.

The companies themselves would then pool the plasma together with hundreds of other donations, thus contaminating many thousands of units of factor concentrate. This product was then shipped around the world and given to thousands of hemophiliacs.

In Britain, more than 4,800 hemophiliacs were infected with Hepatitis C, and 1,200 of those with HIV. Many have already died from their infections and in the case of those given HIV, only 380 or so are still alive.  Yet still, the tragedy deepens, as the legacy of this disaster means that many spouses, partners and loved ones of those infected through blood have themselves become infected… many because people were not told that they had been infected until years after infection took place.

In 1991, under threat of court action for allowing knowingly contaminated blood products into the country, the British Government made ex-gratia payments to those infected with HIV, upon the condition that hemophiliacs would sign an undertaking not to sue the Government for any future infection through their treatments.

The so-called ‘compassionate payments’ were made in respect of the projected life span of sufferers of three to five years, and were forced upon patients who were told that “if you don’t drop the legal action and accept this money, no-one will get anything… people are dying, they need it”. Shortly afterward, it emerged that those same people were also infected with Hepatitis C and that this information had been withheld from them until they had signed the undertaking. Many people did not find out about either infection until years after they occurred.

The Government and the pharmaceutical companies were banking upon none of their victims remaining alive long enough to fight for justice. The Government to this day refuses to hold a public inquiry into the events surrounding almost 2,000 deaths so far, and much more likely.