What is the infected blood scandal? What you need to know about 'worst NHS treatment disaster'

19 May 2024, 11:13 | Updated: 20 May 2024, 09:31

Victims are campaigning for compensation - and the results of the public inquiry will be announced on Monday
Victims are campaigning for compensation - and the results of the public inquiry will be announced on Monday. Picture: Alamy

By Charlie Duffield

Between the 1970s and early 1990s, more than 30,000 people were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C due contaminated blood or blood products.

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Around 3,000 are known to have died, but many more who unwittingly contracted hepatitis C may also have died.

The scandal - dubbed the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS - has been the subject of the biggest ever public inquiry in the UK.

Victims are campaigning for compensation - and the results of the public inquiry will be announced on Monday.

Here's everything you need to know.

Campaigners have demanded compensation for those affected by the scandal
Campaigners have demanded compensation for those affected by the scandal. Picture: Getty

Who was was affected?

There were two main groups of NHS patients impacted.

Haemophiliacs - and those with similar disorders - who have a rare genetic condition which means their blood does not clot properly.

Those with haemophilia A have a shortage of a clotting agent named Factor VIII, whereas people with haemophilia B do not possess sufficient Factor IX.

In the 1970s, a new treatment utilising donated human blood plasma was developed to replace these clotting agents.

However, entire batches were contaminated with lethal viruses, and having been administered the infected treatments, approximately 1,250 people with bleeding disorders went on to develop HIV and hepatitis C, including 380 children.

Two-thirds died from Aids-related illnesses, and some unwillingly gave HIV to their partners.

Then another 2,400 to 5,000 with haemophilia developed Hepatitis C independently, which can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The second group of people impacted were those who were given a contaminated blood transfusion following childbirth, surgery or other medical treatment between 1970 and 1991.

According to the inquiry, between 80 and 100 were infected with HIV, and about 27,000 with Hepatitis C.

It's estimated that 2,900 people have died.

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Why did the infected blood scandal happen?

The UK was struggling to meet the demand for blood-clotting treatments, so imported supplies from the US.

However, a lot of blood was brought in from high risk donors like drug users and prison inmates.

Factor 8 was produced by pooling plasma from tens of thousands of donors, but if one was infected with a virus, it would spread through the entire batch.

It wasn't until 1991 that blood donations were routinely screened for hepatitis C, 18 months after the virus was initially identified.

This is how the scandal unfolded.

The UK-wide infected blood inquiry was announced in 2017, following years of campaigning by victims
The UK-wide infected blood inquiry was announced in 2017, following years of campaigning by victims. Picture: Alamy

What action did authorities take?

By the mid-1970s there were multiple warnings that impacted US Factor 8 had a greater risk of infection.

However initiatives to ensure the UK was more self-sufficient in blood products did not work, so the NHS carried on using foreign supplies.

Campaigners have said haemophiliacs could have been given an alternative treatment named Cryoprecipitate.

This was more difficult to administer but was lower risk as it was made from the blood plasma of a single donor.

By the end of 1985, all Factor 8 products were heat-treated to kill the HIV virus.

"I think tomorrow will be an earthquake" says chairman of Haemophilia Scotland

When was the infected blood inquiry announced?

The UK-wide infected blood inquiry was announced in 2017, following years of campaigning by victims.

It was led by former judge Sir Brian Langstaff, and took evidence between 2019 and 2023.

It has reviewed thousands of documents and heard testimony from 370 witnesses.

The inquiry will publish its final report on 20 May.

It was meant to be delivered in autumn 2023; however Sir Brian insisted more time was needed to prepare "a report of this gravity".

According to the Haemophilia Society, 650 people infected with contaminated blood products, or their bereaved partners, have passed away since the inquiry was announced.

Who gave evidence to the inquiry?

Derek Martindale, who has haemophilia, took to the stand.

He was diagnosed with HIV and given a year to live in 1985 at the age of 23.

Whilst he survived, his brother, who was infected with HIV, died.

Former pupils at Treloar's, a specialist boarding school in Hampshire, gave a testimony as dozens of haemophiliacs were infected with HIV.

Specialist haemophilia doctors working at the time also gave evidence.

Former and current ministers in all of the UK's four nations gave evidence, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

Former pupils at Treloar's, a specialise boarding school in Hampshire, gave a testimony as dozens of haemophiliacs were infected with HIV
Former pupils at Treloar's, a specialise boarding school in Hampshire, gave a testimony as dozens of haemophiliacs were infected with HIV. Picture: Alamy

Will victims be compensated?

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has admitted the government has been “too slow” to deliver justice for the thousands affected by the contaminated blood scandal.

The defence secretary’s comments came as ministers prepare to unveil a £10 billion compensation package for the victims and their families.

After advice from the inquiry in 2022, the government made interim payments of £100,000 each to approximately 4000 surviving victims and some bereaved parents.

In April 2023, Sir Brian said interim compensation should also be given to the children and parents of those infected.

He also recommended a final compensation scheme be set up.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told The Sunday Times that a new compensation package of at least £10 billion for those affected by the scandal will be set up.

The government has accepted the case for compensation, but said it would be "inappropriate" to respond before the inquiry's full report.

But in April 2024, ministers agreed to support a Labour amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, meaning a final compensation scheme must be set up within three months of the legislation becoming law.

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