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Report exposes ‘catalog of failures’ by UK government in infected blood scandal that killed thousands

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May 20, 2024

British authorities and the country’s public health service committed a “catalog of failures” and knowingly exposed tens of thousands of patients to deadly infections through contaminated blood and blood products, an inquiry into the U.K.’s infected blood scandal found Monday.

An estimated 3,000 people in the United Kingdom are believed to have died and many others were left with lifelong illnesses after receiving blood or blood products tainted with HIV or hepatitis in the 1970s to the early 1990s.

The scandal is widely seen as the deadliest disaster in the history of Britain’s state-run National Health Service since its inception in 1948.

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Former judge Brian Langstaff, who chaired the inquiry, slammed successive governments and medical professionals for failing to avoid the tragedy to save face and expense. He found that deliberate attempts were made to conceal the disaster, and there was evidence of government officials destroying 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,” he said. “The response of those in authority served to compound people’s suffering.”

Many of those affected were people with hemophilia, a condition affecting the blood’s ability to clot. In the 1970s, patients were given a new treatment that the U.K. imported from the United States. Some of the plasma used to make the blood products was traced to high-risk donors, including prison inmates, who were paid to give blood samples.

Because manufacturers of the treatment mixed plasma from thousands of donations, one infected donor would compromise the whole batch.

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The report said around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders, including 380 children, were infected with HIV -tainted blood products. Three-quarters of them have died. Up to 5,000 others who received the blood products developed chronic hepatitis C, a type of liver infection.

Meanwhile, an estimated 26,800 others were also infected with hepatitis C after receiving a blood transfusion, often given after childbirth, surgery or an accident, the report said.

Campaigners have fought for decades to bring official failings to light and secure government compensation. The inquiry was finally approved in 2017, and over the past four years it reviewed evidence from more than 5,000 witnesses and more than 100,000 documents.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to apologize later Monday, and authorities are expected to announce compensation of about $12.7 billion in all to victims. Details about that payment are not expected until Tuesday.

Des Collins, a lawyer representing 1,500 of the victims, called the report’s publication a “day of truth.”

“They have spent years bravely telling their stories, campaigning and spurring collective action in order to get to this point. For some, it has been 40 years since their lives were forever blighted or loved ones were lost in cruel circumstances,” he said. “Several thousands, sadly, have not lived to see this day.”

Diana Johnson, a lawmaker who has long campaigned for the victims, said she hoped that those found responsible for the disaster will face justice including prosecution — though the investigations have taken so long that some of the key players may well have died since.

“There has to be accountability for the actions that were taken, even if it was 30, 40, 50 years ago,” she said.

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