Infected Blood Inquiry hearings resume
The Infected Blood Inquiry is examining how contaminated blood products were used by the NHS to treat patients in the 1970s and 1980s, leading to thousands of people being infected with HIV and/or Hepatitis C. It is the largest public inquiry investigation this country has ever held. It was announced by the Government in 2017 after decades of campaigning.
The Infected Blood Inquiry hearings resumed last week following a short break over Christmas. Prior to Christmas, hearings were already running on a limited access basis due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the hearings being streamed via Zoom and YouTube, and only Counsel to the Inquiry, her team, the Chair and members of the Inquiry team present in the hearing room. The Inquiry has continued in this format in the wake of the third national lockdown.
This phase of the Inquiry has followed preliminary hearings, which began in September 2018, infected and affected witness hearings, which took place from April to November 2019, and expert hearings in February 2020. The current phase began in September 2020 and has focussed predominantly on the evidence of clinicians who were in post during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the evidence relating to specific haemophilia centres. It has been the first phase to explore the decisions made during the relevant periods, helping to construct a picture of what happened and why. We have heard from clinicians working at haemophilia centres across the UK – in England, Wales and Scotland. Clinicians working in Northern Ireland are expected to give evidence at the end of March 2021.
There have been a number of recurrent themes which have arisen in the evidence of this phase of the Inquiry. These include but are not limited to:
- The developing knowledge of the risk of Hepatitis C from blood products;
- The developing knowledge of the risk of AIDS;
- The response, if any, by clinicians to these risks and how this changed over time;
- The dissemination of information amongst clinicians about these risks;
- The way these risks were communicated to patients, if at all;
- Whether these risks were explained to patients in order to obtain their informed consent to treatment;
- The testing of patients for these viruses, and whether consent was obtained for testing;
- The way in which test results were communicated to patients, and the time which elapsed from clinicians being aware of the results to informing the patients;
- The role of the state and national bodies, including in relation to standard-setting and the development and implementation of policies to mitigate risk;
- The way in which clinicians and the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing blood products interacted with one another.
This phase of the Inquiry is expected to run from January to March 2021. As well as hearing from clinicians working in Northern Ireland, we will hear from experts in medical ethics and witnesses who worked at the Haemophilia Society and for Trusts and Schemes intended to support people who were infected or affected by contaminated blood products.
Saunders Law currently represents a group of core participants in the Infected Blood Inquiry.