NHS IT, Records and Data

01.05.19

Public inquiry into ‘worst treatment scandal in the history of the NHS’ hears first ‘harrowing’ evidence

The public inquiry into the NHS tainted blood scandal where nearly 5,000 people were infected with hepatitis C or HIV, leading to around 2,000 deaths, has started taking evidence.

Witness statements given at the contaminated blood scandal inquiry have been described as “harrowing” and “incredibly moving” by the chair of the probe, who has promised the inquiry would be “frightened of no-one.”

Around 4,800 people with haemophilia were infected with the deadly diseases in the 1970s and 1980s, and more than 2,000 of these are thought to have died with thousands more exposed through blood transfusions after childbirth or an operation.

Lawyers for the inquiry have now revealed that thousands of victims may still be unaware they are infected with the deadly viruses, and that health chiefs have instructed GPs to ask patients about previous transfusions in a bid to identify undiagnosed hepatitis C.

The inquiry heard a number of witness statements, such as Derek Martindale who contracted HIV and hepatitis C in 1985 from contaminated blood products and given a year to live but was told not to tell anyone as it could make him a “social pariah.”

Derek’s brother Richard also contracted the virus and died in 1990 aged 23.

C. Joe GammiePA WirePA Images

Derek Martindale with his future wife Margaret, and son John-Paul outside Fleetbank House in central London for the Infected Blood Inquiry.

The inquiry, announced in July 2017, will consider evidence from approximately 2,500 people, most of whom were infected with or affected by contaminated blood products such as Factor VIII or IX.

There have been two previous inquiries into the scandal, but these have been discredited by campaigners, and the size and scope of the new investigation has been described as “unprecedented” by counsel Jenni Richards QC.

As the hearings got underway, she said it had “been referred to as the biggest public inquiry the United Kingdom has ever undertaken,” adding that around 1,200 witness statements have been received so far. Richards expects another 1,200 to come in the next few months.

Retired high court judge and chair of the probe, Sir Brian Langstaff, said the inquiry could last as long as two years and after hearing from victims in central London, there will be similar testimonies in Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Ahead of the public hearings, the government announced an extra £30m in financial support for people affected by the tragedy, with prime minister Theresa May stating that the tragedy “caused unimaginable pain and hurt for victims and for decades.”

“I know this will be a difficult time for victims and their families - but today will begin a journey which will be dedicated to getting to the truth of what happened and in delivering justice to everyone involved.”

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