We are currently instructed in the Infected Blood Inquiry which is examining how contaminated blood products were used by the NHS to treat patients in the 1970s and 1980s.
It is thought up to 30,000 people were infected by contaminated blood products during this period, and the Inquiry has the largest number of core participants of any public inquiry in the UK. The Inquiry aims to establish the circumstances of this treatment which led to thousands of men, women and children being infected with Hepatitis viruses and/or HIV.
The contaminated blood scandal has had a devastating impact on those infected and those “affected” (close family, partners, etc.). Many of those infected subsequently died. Those infected have had to bear the consequences of not only the viruses, but also the requirement for constant treatment and the side effects resulting from treatment, as well as the stigma associated with the viruses, which was severe and persists today. As established in the expert hearings in February 2020, the combined physical, psychological and social toll on those infected and affected is unprecedented.
For those infected and affected, the Inquiry has been long awaited. The government announced it was establishing the Inquiry in 2017 after in excess of thirty years of pressure from campaign groups. It presents a vital opportunity to finally establish the truth over what happened, give those infected and affected a voice and a chance to share their experience, and for recommendations to be made to ensure that something like this never happens again and that those infected and affected are given effective treatment and support.
The Inquiry’s terms of reference were published in July 2018 and cover: what happened and why; the impact on the infected and the affected; the response of the government, medical authorities and others; testing of patients without their consent; the adequacy of communication and information-sharing; treatment, care and support; whether there have been attempts to conceal details of what happened; and responsibilities and recommendations.
Preliminary hearings began in September 2018 with a commemoration designed by campaigners and opening statements from the Inquiry team and core participants. Witness hearings were then held across in UK from April to November 2019 which allowed those infected and affected to give oral evidence as part of the Inquiry. In February 2020, expert groups gave evidence on the psychological and social impacts of living with infections and current knowledge about hepatitis, HIV, haemophilia and blood and bleeding disorders. The hearings were due to resume in June 2020 to hear evidence relating to the policies and practices of haemophilia centres across the UK, but this has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.