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Repairing the damage of NHS contaminated blood saga is long overdue

PUBLISHED: 13:00 11 July 2015

Angela Farrugia lost three brothers - Barry, Victor and David - to contaminated blood. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Angela Farrugia lost three brothers - Barry, Victor and David - to contaminated blood. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Our investigation has highlighted the many ways local victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal continue to be failed decades on. Now, investigations editor David Powles outlines the improvements badly needed...

"I have a huge amount of sympathy for anybody who has been affected by contaminated blood and in particular the Farrugia family, whose situation has been highlighted by the Newham Recorder.
Progress on this issue has been painfully slow. I believe the effort should be made to provide direct support to those who bear particular financial burdens as a result of contracting hep C or HIV"

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham

You would be hard pressed to find a group of people as repeatedly let down by the state as the thousands affected by the contaminated blood scandal.

This failure runs deep and is a scar on the good work that those tasked with serving the public so often do.

Go back to the start and a series of ill-judged decisions have ultimately set so many families down a path that no-one would want to contend with.

Families like Angela Farrugia (pictured right) who lost three of her brothers to HIV and hepatitis C (hep C), including Victor Farrugia, who lived in Brooks Avenue, East Ham.

Victor Farrugia died of HIV contracted from contaminated NHS blood productsVictor Farrugia died of HIV contracted from contaminated NHS blood products

All were infected through blood products used to treat the blood clotting disorder haemophilia.

Following their deaths, Angela and her nephew Tony joined a campaign to deliver justice for the many victims and to fight for a fair settlement from the government for her brothers.

“They took treatment to help them and it killed them, it was as simple as that,” says Angela. “They were victims of a cover-up really. It’s been covered up for all these years and I’m just trying to do what I can and get some justice.”

For whatever reason, be it to save cash or with good intentions, the decision of the British government to import and use unchecked blood and blood products in the UK right up until 1991 was a terrible mistake.

The government’s response

We put a series of questions to the Department of Health.

On the many failings perceived:
“We understand how distressing this scandal has been for those affected and their families, and the prime minister has apologised to all those that were infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C (hep C) through treatment with NHS-supplied blood or blood products before 1991.

“Over the last two decades various schemes have been set up to provide financial assistance to these people and, to date, over £365million has been paid out in the UK. In recent years, the Department of Health has put over £70million more into the system (over the course of the last parliament) targeting resources at those in need.

“However, we know that many people remain unhappy with the current support, and we are working on what can be done to improve it. The PM has announced an additional one-off payment of £25million to help those who have been affected, and we are considering how to use it.”

Will there be a public inquiry in this country into the scandal?
“There will not be another public inquiry following the independent public inquiry chaired by Lord Penrose in March 2015 because it would delay victims and their families in getting the support they need.”

Why have there been no prosecutions sought?

“With the exceptions of cases where compensation has been paid out under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, no liability or fault has ever been proven or accepted in a court of 
law. Successive governments have, however, voluntarily established financial assistance schemes for those affected.”

But for those products to continue to be used for several years after the potential dangers were known is nothing short of neglect.

If, since then, all had been done to make the lives of those poisoned as simple and pain-free as possible, this would probably be a matter that could be consigned to the history books. But this stain lingers.

Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, said: “I have a huge amount of sympathy for anybody who has been affected by contaminated blood and in particular the Farrugia family, whose situation has been highlighted by the Newham Recorder.

“Thousands of lives have been devastated by this scandal and we must ensure that better processes are put in place so that this never happens again.

“Progress on this issue has been painfully slow. I believe the effort should be made to provide direct support to those who bear particular financial burdens as a result of contracting hep C or HIV.”

While it may be too late for criminal prosecution to be brought against anyone found to have been involved in those early, ill-fated decisions, it is entirely understandable that campaigners feel bitter at a lack of accountability.

We welcome the government’s pledge to make historical documents relating to the issue available to public scrutiny through the National Archive.

However, all that may do is add to campaigners’ sense of injustice, should they be able to read of the many failings that have impacted on their lives, but not feel that anything can be or has been done.

There has been an All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into the financial support provided to victims – but we support the campaign group’s calls for a public inquiry into the events that led to the tragedies, to ensure lessons are learned.

The least these people deserve is to have their day in a public forum.

But what good is such an inquiry if sufferers and their families have to continue to live in poverty because illnesses caused by government mistakes make them unable to provide for themselves?

In the Republic of Ireland, victims received an acceptable lump sum payment for their agony and pain, along with regular support.

That should happen in England too. It is estimated such a payout would cost £1.5billion, roughly the same compensation given to victims of the Equitable Life financial scandal.

On top of this, consistent levels of financial support need to be given to hep C sufferers, no matter how serious the government believes their health problems to be.

That also needs to apply to widows and families.

It is too late for the devastation caused by this scandal to be undone.

But, with a new government in place, it’s about time some of the damage was at least repaired.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT

Campaign group Tainted Blood is urging people to write to their local MP to make sure they are aware of the issues sufferers face so that they can push the issue in the Commons.

Meanwhile, a petition has been set up calling for “a public inquiry to force the government to tell the truth”.

Sign it by visiting you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/nhs-contaminated-blood-scandal


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