HealthWellbeing & Leisure

UK indicted for infecting thousands with HIV, hepatitis in ‘deadliest NHS disaster’

An inquiry into the United Kingdom’s infected blood scandal, on Monday, found that British authorities and the country’s public health service “knowingly exposed tens of thousands of patients to deadly infections through contaminated blood and blood products, and hid the truth about the disaster for decades.”

According to the Associated Press, this scandal, which occurred between the 1970s and early 1990s, is believed to have claimed around 3,000 lives and left many others with lifelong illnesses after receiving blood or blood products tainted with HIV or hepatitis.

This “deadliest disaster in the history of Britain’s National Health Service” (NHS) since its inception in 1948 has sparked outrage and calls for justice.

Former judge Brian Langstaff, who led the inquiry, condemned successive governments and medical professionals for their “catalogue of failures” and refusal to take responsibility. He found evidence of deliberate attempts to conceal the truth and destroy documents.

“This disaster was not an accident. The infections happened because those in authority — doctors, the blood services and successive governments — did not put patient safety first,” Langstaff said. “The response of those in authority served to compound people’s suffering.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who apologised to the victims, said the report’s publication marked “a day of shame for the British state.”

Read more: UK Nigerian Nurses Involved in “Industrial-Scale” Qualifications Fraud

 

Campaigners have fought tirelessly for decades to expose official failings and secure compensation.

The inquiry, approved in 2017, reviewed evidence from over 5,000 witnesses and 100,000 documents. Many affected were people with hemophilia, a condition affecting blood clotting. In the 1970s, patients received a new treatment imported from the US, made from plasma traced to high-risk donors, including prison inmates paid for their blood.

The report revealed that around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders, including 380 children, contracted HIV-tainted blood products. Three-quarters have since died. Up to 5,000 others developed chronic hepatitis C, and an estimated 26,800 more contracted hepatitis C through blood transfusions in hospitals. The report condemned the government’s inaction, citing decades of knowledge about the risks of blood transfusions and products.

“I am truly sorry,” Sunak told a packed and silent House of Commons. “Today’s report shows a decades-long moral failure at the heart of our national life. From the National Health Service to the civil service, to ministers in successive governments, at every level the people and institutions in which we place our trust failed in the most harrowing and devastating way.”

The prime minister vowed to “right this historic wrong” and promised a compensation package worth £10 billion ($12.7 billion). The report highlighted the need for accountability, and campaigners demand justice, including prosecution, for those responsible.

 

The report said many of the deaths and illnesses could have been avoided had the government taken steps to address the risks linked to blood transfusions or the use of blood products. Since the 1940s and the early 1980s it has been known that hepatitis and the cause of AIDS respectively could be transmitted this way, the inquiry said.

Langstaff said that, unlike a long list of developed countries, officials in the U.K. failed to ensure rigorous blood donor selection and screening of blood products. At one school attended by children with haemophilia, public health officials gave the children “multiple, riskier” treatments as part of research, the report said.

He added that over the years authorities “compounded the agony by refusing to accept that wrong had been done,” falsely telling patients they had received the best treatment available and that blood screening had been introduced at the earliest opportunity. When people were found to be infected, officials delayed informing them about what happened.

Langstaff said that while each failure on its own was serious, taken “together they are a calamity.”

Samuel Bolaji

Samuel Bolaji holds a Master of Letters in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is an experienced researcher, multimedia journalist, writer, and Editor. He is currently the Editor of Arbiterz.

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