UK inquiry: Infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided

Friends and relatives affected by the contaminated blood scandal attend a vigil to remember those who lost their lives. /Reuters

Friends and relatives affected by the contaminated blood scandal attend a vigil to remember those who lost their lives. /Reuters

The UK’s infected blood scandal that has killed 3,000 people and left thousands more suffering with hepatitis or HIV was no accident, a public inquiry found on Monday, blaming a catalogue of failures by government and doctors.

Inquiry chair Brian Langstaff said more than 30,000 people received infected blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s from Britain’s state-funded National Health Service, destroying lives, dreams and families.

The use of infected blood, despite the known risks, has resulted in thousands of victims in the United States, France, Canada and other countries, in part after U.S. prisoners and other high-risk groups were paid to provide blood.

In Britain around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, including about 380 children, the inquiry found. Three quarters of them died.

“This disaster was not an accident,” Langstaff said. “The infections happened because those in authority – doctors, the blood services and successive governments – did not put patient safety first.”

He said proper compensation must now be paid.

The government, which in 2015 said it was “something that never should have happened,” agreed in 2022 to pay an interim $125,000 to those affected.


Systemic failures

The infected blood and blood products, some of which were imported from the United States, were used for transfusions, which were not always clinically needed, and as treatments for bleeding disorders like hemophilia.

Hemophiliacs received Factor 8 concentrates, often imported from the United States or Austria, which carried a higher risk of causing hepatitis.


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Some of the concentrates were infected with HIV in the 1980s, the inquiry said, but authorities failed to switch to safer alternatives and they decided in July 1983, a year after risks were apparent, not to suspend their importation.

Systemic failures resulted in between 80 and 100 people becoming infected with HIV by transfusion, it said, and about 26,800 were infected with Hepatitis C, often from receiving blood after childbirth or an operation.


Failed by complacency

Both groups were failed by doctors’ complacency about Hepatitis C and being slow to respond to the risks of AIDS, it said, compounded by an absence of meaningful apology or redress.

He said patients were exposed to risks despite it being well known that blood could cause severe infection, in the case of hepatitis since the end of World War II.

Treatment practices that could have reduced the risks were not adopted, he said, noting blood was collected from prisoners, who had a higher prevalence of hepatitis, until 1984.

Some of the victims were further betrayed by being used in medical trials without their knowledge or consent, he said.

“It will be astonishing to anyone who reads this report that these events could have happened in the UK,” Langstaff said.

The British inquiry, which started in 2018, does not have the power to recommend prosecutions.

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Source(s): Reuters