Contaminated blood inquiry: Scots victims to give evidence

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    Packs of blood Image copyright SPL

    The stories of Scots who contracted HIV and hepatitis from contaminated blood products will be heard as an inquiry into the scandal moves to Edinburgh.

    Victims and their families will give evidence during the two weeks the UK-wide inquiry is in Scotland.

    An estimated 3,000 people were infected with tainted blood products in Scotland in the 1970s and 80s.

    An earlier public inquiry into contaminated blood products in Scotland was labelled a “whitewash” by victims.

    The Penrose Inquiry – published in 2015 – took six years and cost more than £12m, though its powers and terms of reference were limited.

    Many of the NHS patients who were infected were haemophiliacs, while others included those who needed blood transfusions.

    Dan Farthing, of Haemophilia Scotland, said they were determined not to repeat the “failure” of the Scottish public inquiry.

    It did not have the power to compel witnesses outside Scotland to attend and it made only a single recommendation – that anyone who had a blood transfusion in Scotland before 1991 should be tested for hepatitis C.

    Image caption The Penrose Inquiry was limited in who it could call as witnesses

    Haemophilia Scotland is optimistic that the chairman of the new inquiry, retired judge Sir Brian Langstaff, will keep the victims and their families at its “heart”.

    Mr Farthing said: “Over the next two weeks infected and affected people from across Scotland will be giving evidence and painfully reliving some of the worst experiences of their lives.

    “We will hear about how these infections have taken lives, destroyed relationships, and ended careers.”

    He added: “For the inquiry to succeed it must answer the questions poised to it by our community.

    “The inquiry recommendations, when they come, must show that lessons have been learned and make sure that all those damaged by the disaster have the financial and emotional support they need.”

    Why were people infected?

    Image caption Clotting agent Factor VIII was given to haemophillia patients

    People with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were given blood infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses during the 1970s and 1980s.

    It was the result of a new treatment; a clotting agent called Factor VIII.

    People who had blood transfusions after an operation, or childbirth, are also thought to have been exposed.

    The UK was struggling to keep up with demand for the Factor VIII blood clotting treatment, so supplies began to be imported from the US, where much of the blood plasma came from donors such as prison inmates and drug-users, who sold their blood.

    These groups were at higher risk of blood-borne viruses, but at the time HIV had not been diagnosed, and understanding about hepatitis was still developing.

    By the mid-1980s, once it was clear HIV was blood-borne, the products started to be heat-treated to kill the viruses but questions remain about how much was known before this time.

    Some of the contaminated blood products remained in circulation and continued to be used, and screening of all blood products began in 1991.

    By the late 1990s, synthetic treatments for haemophilia became available, removing the risk of infection.

    Image caption Haemophilia is a genetic disorder that impairs the body’s ability to make blood clots

    The latest public inquiry has been described as the biggest in UK history. It started in London in September last year and has already held sessions in Leeds and Belfast.

    It aims to establish why patients were given blood products infected with HIV and hepatitis C, and whether there was a cover-up.

    The Department of Health estimates that 30,000 people across the UK were affected.

    The Scottish hearings will be held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

    Analysis

    By Lisa Summers, BBC Scotland Health and Social Care Correspondent

    Image copyright PA

    In contrast to the rest of the UK, Scotland was less reliant on imported blood products from the US.

    The transfusion service, however, regularly used donations from prisoners to top up supplies – a group at higher risk of having infections like HIV or hepatitis C.

    So for the Scottish patients, who felt that they had no voice in the Penrose Inquiry, this is an opportunity to discover where responsibility lies for those actions.

    But this new UK wide inquiry is also broader and has greater powers. It will look at claims of a cover-up, and the response of government and officials as the risks began to emerge.

    And like thousands of others across the UK, the key questions are similar: will it hold people to account? And will it result in more compensation for the victims and families who have lived with the stigma, or died with the shame, of this enormous NHS mistake?