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When will the government respond to blood inquiry?

Susan Watts | 14:12 UK time, Friday, 24 April 2009

Yesterday, as the furore of the Budget entered its second day, a quieter debate was taking place in the House of Lords.

This was on the infection of thousands, haemophiliacs and others, with Hepatitis C and HIV from the NHS blood products used to treat them in the 1970s and 80s.

It's nine weeks since Lord Archer of Sandwell published his thorough examination of this terrible saga, why it happened and what can stop it happening again. The government has yet to respond.

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There were several powerful speakers. All implored the government to accept Lord Archer's recommendations - aimed primarily at redressing years of financial hardship among the families involved, and measures to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Lord Rooker left the strongest mark: "Governments are judged in some ways on the big issues of the day - yesterday's Budget is a good example - but they are also judged in people's hearts and minds and, in the minds of opinion-formers, by the smaller matters of how they deal with people who cannot help themselves. There may be 100 people here, 50 there, 1,000 there, whose lives are devastated and harmed because of the state doing its function."

Lord Morris of Manchester secured yesterday's Lords debate, and was the prime impetus behind Lord Archer's inquiry. He's been a lifelong champion of the disabled and disaffected, taking on issues from Thalidomide to autism to dyslexia.

He commended the campaigners seeking redress for those infected by contaminated blood. He said that in none of his parliamentary campaigns had he felt so strongly that such campaigning should not have been necessary, describing haemophiliacs and their families as "a small and stricken community for whom acquaintance with grief, recurrent and abject grief, is an inescapable fact of life".

He read out Lord Archer's conclusion that Crown immunity had "rescued" NHS organisations from taking responsibility for their part in the tragedy. Since Crown immunity no longer exists, he argued, it's time for this government to review the claims of the victims. Those affected have received some payment. But this was described yesterday, again by Lord Rooker, as "a pittance". In many cases it amounts to roughly the same as the £24,000 second home allowance for MPs.

Successive governments have refused a public inquiry, Lord Morris said, leaving haemophiliacs with no hope of independent assessment until Lord Archer's report. Yet the Canadian and Irish Governments have found ways of compensating victims by "more than anything even contemplated by ministers for NHS-infected patients here".

Yesterday's speakers seek: a statutory committee to advise the government on issues of concern to haemophiliacs; proper financial recognition of their need; an end to the injustices in today's complicated system of ad-hoc payments and funds to support the work of the Haemophila Society. Many want an apology.

And then there's the question of protecting today's blood supply, from infections we already know about - such as vCJD - and infections we have yet to identify. Already one haemophiliac was recently confirmed, post mortem, as having contracted vCJD.

Baroness Thornton, speaking for the government, said it is still reviewing the use of a blood test to help protect the supply in the first place, and possibly filters to remove the prion infectious agent from donated blood. She seemed genuinely embarrassed that she was not able to respond in this debate to the detail of Lord Archer's recommendations, though she went out of her way to stress that they are being taken seriously by government.

Over the past two years, campaigners, and Lord Archer's team, have had to wrestle documents out of the Department of Health - vital evidence for the inquiry. Baroness Thornton apologised yesterday for the department's poor record keeping, and said this was all just the beginning of a process of accountability for the government. It's not the end for the campaigners either.

Baroness Thornton concluded, on behalf of the government, by saying ".... how sorry we are and how much we regret the events that resulted in the tragic outcomes for their families".

This won't be enough for Lord Corbett of Castle Vale. He had earlier referred to a former constituent, Sue Threakall, whose husband died at the age of 47 in 1991, having been infected by HIV and hepatitis B and C in 1977.

"Mrs Threakall does not want sympathy; she finds it offensive. She wants relief from the shattering poverty to which she is condemned because her breadwinner husband, Bob Threakall, who was given dirty blood, died on the wrong date in the wrong country. "
Lord Rooker reminded us all of the role of governments yesterday, and how, in the end, they're judged:

"The question is how they react when the small people are damaged by them - how they handle not the big financial and industrial issues of the day, but these issues."

So how will this Government react?


  • Comment number 1.


    How can a misinformed, disinformed, gullible, bribable, unthinking, hedonistic, overtired, overfed bunch of ninnies judge anything? The few that can, don't vote at elections because they recognise Westminster as a game for corrupt fantasists. What, then, should we make of Lord Rooker's words: "but they (politicians) are also judged in people's hearts and minds and, in the minds of opinion-formers, by the smaller matters of how they deal with people who cannot help themselves.

    WE, THE VOTERS, ARE THE VERY PEOPLE WHO CANNOT HELP OURSELVES! If we could, we would be rid of these puffed up charlatans. We urgently need (just as a start) an abstention box on the voting slip. This is the only way the honourable but disillusioned masses can record NO CONFIDENCE. Make it so.

  • Comment number 2.

    My thanks go out to Susan and all the Newsnight team for keeping this issue in the public eye. It seems untenable for government to respond with any system of redress other than parity with the "no fault system" on the statute books in Eire.
    The Irish common sense and compassionate approach where they concentrated on helping those infected and affected rather than wasting money on defending the State legal liability and where every case was independently assessed is an example and a template the present government would be wise to seriously consider.
    As stated in the debate on the 23rd April "this is not the end" and all the haemophilia community and members of the public who have been harmed dearly hope that the response from government will be the beginning of the end, so all infected and affected can continue with the rest of their life with some dignity and the knowledge that justice was finally "seen to be done" Why is this so difficult for ministers to understand?

  • Comment number 3.

    As secretary of TaintedBlood, I should like to extend my thanks both to Susan Watts and the Newsnight team, for keeping this subject on their agenda, and also for those members of the House of Lords who supported us in Thursday's debate.

    Lord Morris of Manchester must surely have given the speech of his life, followed by a whole series of powerful, emotional statements by the likes of Lord Corbett, Lord Rooker, etc. I did not hear one word said against us; everyone was doing the same thing - urging the government to treat this, not as a party issue, but as an issue of right and wrong.

    The government has now been urged by some of the most eminent members of the House of Lords to deal with this issue for once and for all. The numbers involved are finite and, surely, after all these years, parity with Ireland as a minimum would be a way of dealing with it?

    Ireland, traditionally a poor country, has already paid out amounts approximately ten times higher than those ex-gratia handouts awarded in this country. As Lord Corbett so eloquently said the efforts so far have been:

    '…a huge monument to the shame of successive governments who have found ways of avoiding their responsibilities to the victims and their carers.'

    Nearly thirty years of campaigning, financial hardship and begging for state handouts could be over in the blink of an eye, should the government choose to make this issue a priority. The government should also be aware by now that, though people continue to die at the rate of more than one per month, others are taking up the battle. Again to quote Lord Corbett's words:

    'This debate isn’t the end. It isn’t the end.'

  • Comment number 4.

    A big thank-you to Susan Watts and the Newsnight team for continuing to flag up this important issue and highlighting the consequences for those who received contaminated NHS blood.

    Ten years ago it was almost impossible to get an article in the press as this subject was seen as a "dead" issue. Successive governments had convinced Jo Public that there was no need to hold a full and open public inquiry by releasing a false statement that "all the information was in the public domain". Campaigners showed that this was not the case. They fought to have thousands of documents released (at least those that were not already "inadvertantly shredded by an over- zealous junior civil servant")!

    Lord Warner had gone down in Hansard with yet another incorrect claim saying that the situation in Eire was different, the Irish government accepted "legal liability" therefore the British government would not pay out recompense on a parity with Eire. I was in fact able to secure supportive letters from both Irish lawyers and the Irish government blood policy department stating that Lord Warner was entirely wrong, Eire had in fact paid out on "moral" grounds. Despite continued efforts from Lord Morris in several debates to higlight the truth, haemophiliacs have still not received an apology to date, this is a disgrace!

    The media has recently played a important role in securing the hearts and minds of people beyond the haemophilia community who have joined us in our efforts to secure justice. The general public are firmly behind us now. To that end I recently received news from an old school friend who has taken up the cause with Andrew Lansley, the shadow health spokesman in the commons. It seems there has also been a change of heart here too. Lansley states that the Tories welcome the report - criticise the Department of Health for not providing witnesses to the public inquiry and will hold the government to account if they do not implement the recommendations of Lord Archer. Lets ensure then that the Tories keep to their word!

    The author of this post lost her husband and brother in law to "bad blood" set up campaign group Haemophila Action UK and was awarded the Michael Young prize for her research on the global blood trade.

  • Comment number 5.

    More than sixty days after the release of the Archer Report and there has been no comment from the PM.
    He has had time to comment on other events, the sad death of Jade Goody for example but not a word for those who have suffered in so many ways for far too many years.
    Hang your head in shame Mr. Brown.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think that the government should act swiftly and save themselves from even more embarrassment. It is shameful how they have behaved, they can still do something to right the lots of wrongs that they have done to such a vulnerable and already stricken community.Thanks to Susan watts for maintaining the story and putting it in the public domain also thank you to the speakers who gave some very powerful speeches

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank you to Susan for continuing to highlight this issue.

    There are many things that should have been done to avoid this issue in the first place, and to put things right since this tragedy happened.

    Successive governments failed to face up to this and deal with the consequences. The current government now has the opportunity to bring closure to this sorry tale and allow those affected to live the rest of their lives with dignity and move on.

    Lord Archer's report has won almost universal support, and it's integrity and independance has been widely acknowledged. It is time that the government responded to Lord Archer's report. They should adopt the recommendations to deal with this issue, to alleviate the hardships and suffering of this minority group, and to put in place an appropriate structure to manage the future treatment of haemophiliacs.

    No one can change what happened in the past but the current administration can take steps to put right the future for these people whose lives have been devastated by this tragedy.

  • Comment number 8.

    In 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his famous inaugural address, America was in the grip of the Great Depression. He declared that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".
    Today, Britain is governed by fear. Our government and its policies are paralysed by fear, the fear of setting a precedent. Imagine a government fearful of setting a precedent for doing the right thing! This week, the Gurkas are sadly just another example of this.
    Our government is so fearful of this concept that they are prepared to turn their backs on this country’s must courageous, most dignified and the ones in which Britons should have the most respect and pride.
    This tragedy should not only be remembered for the thousands of innocent people who were made critically ill or who died through their medical treatment but also its stealth like qualities which kept it under the radar of the national conscience and forced it victims into a thirty year battle for acknowledgment, truth, justice and even an apology.
    For this country to be ‘great’ again, we need to be governed by fearless leaders who set the benchmark for humanity and morality, not one that drags its heels to even be on a parity with our European neighbours.
    How ironic that this debate took place on St George’s Day. The Lords, who in modern times are often criticised, truly defended the innocent last Thursday. They defended them from the very government voted into power to protect them. So, whether it’s a sword of morality or public opinion which finally slays this dragon, the victims, their loved ones and our supporters will not rest until justice is done.

  • Comment number 9.

    Why have Newsnight not run a follow-up programe now that Lord Archer's report has been published? There is no shortage of questions to be answered.
    What did Lord Archer discover? Who did he meet with in secret?
    Why did the infections happen? What can stop it happening again? What were the mistakes? Who made the mistakes? Who gave bad advice to the government? What advice did the goverment get from the Haemophilia Society? Where does blood come from now? Has anything changed?

  • Comment number 10.

    The whole affair is scandalous. Several people involved in this issue should be very grateful that they dont face legal proceedings.

  • Comment number 11.

    We should concentrate on what was omitted from Lord Archer's report...
    ...the report failed to cover the use of UK-sourced prison blood, ...and would have benefited from a more substantial discussion of the supply of prison blood from the USA, ...the report overlooks the suspected (and as yet unproven) use of blood from cadavers (human dead bodies) in the manufacture of Factor VIII concentrates which could have made its way to the UK, ...there was no mention of the use of non-consensual research on haemophiliacs; particularly on previously untreated patients (PUPs) and mild to moderate haemophiliacs; many of whom were children, ...there was no mention of the appalling instance of an 'Aids study' where patients were deliberately exposed to known infective product with the aim of accelerating their acquisition of the causative agent of Aids - since in 1983 the UK was lagging roughly 3 years behind the USA in terms of the epidemiology of Aids and scientists were on the lookout for a geographical area in which to explore Aids, pre-Aids and what minutes of meetings referred to as 'a proposed agent', ...the catalogue of mistakes that led to the avoidable exposure of 4,000 UK haemophiliacs to vCJD (mad cow disease) in the late 1990s were left out, ...and there's no mention of the exportation of UK-manufactured vCJD-implicated blood products and derivatives to 11 countries.

  • Comment number 12.

    Why have Newsnight not run a follow-up programe now that Lord Archer's report has been published?

    With World Hepatitis Awareness Day on the 19th of May , that would be a fantastic opportunity for the BBC to highlight this issue. The statistics are staggering , and yet a couple of people with FLU get national coverage ? Who is editing the BBC news exactly , Gordon Brown?

  • Comment number 13.

    The haemophilliacs and those given the contaminated blood face a ticking health time bomb including being 'at risk' of developing vcjd the human form of mad cows disease. Yet lesssons have still not be learnt as once again government departments are stalling on implementing blood screening for vcjd.
    Lives will be saved if donated blood is screened for vCJD. There is a test available but the Department of Health are stalling.. The test is by a company called Amorfix who have already screened 10,000 blood donors in France.

    I asked my MP Mike Hancock to table some questions on my behalf to the Minister of Health. Below are the questions and her answers.

    As a parent who has lost their only son to vCJD if we screen donated blood we can prevent further deaths and a possible 'SECONDARY SELF SUSTAINING EPIDEMIC THROUGH BLOOD. (Dr Hester Ward SABTO (SAFETY OF BLOOD TISSUES AND ORGANS) October 2008)

    At least 18 blood donors who gave blood for many years went on to develop and die of vCJD...and with 'PROBABLY ONE IN A THOUSAND OF THE UK POPULATION CARRYING VCJD' (Professor JOhn Collinge UCL) ,
    there may well be a 'POOL' of individuals silently incubating vCJD who will never become ill with the disease but have the potential to pass it onwards to others through donated blood, tissues, cells or organs.

    Read my current blog on and see the photo of Andrew taken the day before he died this is the reality of vCJD....if we screen donated blood people will not again die needlessly ....
    A culture of secrecy killed my only son....its now time for transparency, openess and proactive decision making by the Department of Health. False reassurances and rhetoric by Ministers in the 1980s and 1990s killed my andrew. In the 21st century the UK public should be protected and blood prodcuts should be safe and free of the rogue prions that cause vCJD, its the DOH duty of care to keep the UK public safe and to prevent further deaths.

    Yet they have been preventing companies working on tests from accessing human vCJD samples..and in the process stopping the validation of these tests! Some of these samples may well include bloods from my beloved son Andrew! which I allowed the DOH to retain with the understanding they would be used in research and to help find treatments, tests and cures.
    Last week Amorfix which was featued on BBC2 newsnight on 22nd February 2009 was finally allowed to present its test and findings to the NHS, CJD Unit and various departments in whitehall....hopefully this means that validation of this test is now very close. I will keep you posted....

    My Andrews samples may well be some of those used in this validation process and as his mother
    I want some of his last physical remains to hopefully save lives in the future..
    ..this will then be a true legacy for my beloved boy ....and its what he would have wanted....too many haemophilliacs have died and will unfortunately die due to false reassuarances and bland now time for public servants to serve the british publics health and well being and not their political careers or government policy.....

    CJD: Screening
    Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to the answer of 27 March 2009, Official Report, columns 756-7W, on CJD: screening, what the criteria are for validation of a test for variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease. [269064]
    Dawn Primarolo: Any item of equipment for a variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease test kit must meet the essential safety requirements specified in the In Vitro Diagnostic Medical Devices Directive.
    The device must perform as intended by the manufacturer and meet criteria relating to sensitivity, specificity, accuracy, repeatability and reproducibility.
    Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what rights family members of those who have died of variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) have in relation to the use of their relatives' blood samples for the purposes of (a) research into and (b) validation of a blood screening test for vCJD. [269218]
    Dawn Primarolo: Such samples can only be used for the purposes for which consent was given. Consent may be withdrawn at any time.
    Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to the answer of 27 March 2009, Official Report, column 757W, on blood donation screening, if he will make an assessment of the merits of giving access to blood samples of those who have died of variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) to companies which have developed a blood screening test for vCJD. [269219]
    Dawn Primarolo: A process, overseen by the independent OD Resource Centre Oversight Committee, is already in place to enable appropriate access to the small number of blood samples from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (vGD) disease patients. Companies developing vCJD screening tests are already participating in this process.


  • Comment number 14.

    As a person with haemophilia, I was greatly disturbed by something I heard in a House of Lords debate on Thursday 23rd April 2009. The following quotation was relayed to us by Lord Thomas of Gresford during the debate on contaminated blood and I would like to thank him for making me aware of this situation of total disregard for the lives of haemophiliacs.

    "He died at the age of 40 in 1998. Samples of his body were sent to the National CJD Surveillance Unit without his wifes knowledge. Four days after his death, she was told by the unit, Well, haemophiliacs make an excellent model for this kind of study...."

    Source: Lords Hansard:

    The final comment in this quotation was obviously made by someone working for the National CJD Surveillance Unit (NCJDSU) and was said to the widow of a haemophiliac. The most disturbing aspect of this is that it confirms what I have long suspected about the medical profession's enduring stance that haemophiliacs are nothing more than an expensive form of 'captive audience' who have no choice but to keep returning, offering up their veins. It would not have been difficult for the profession to carry out research involving haemophiliac patients - and I believe it was... There would have been no better cohort than the young haemophiliac pupils of the Treloar school in Alton...
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 15.


    So how will this Government react?

    I think that this government should react with vigor and, do anything in its powers to repair and correct the mistakes....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 16.

    Dear Newsnight

    The Inquiry emerged the most important but unreported fact.

    At least 300-400,000 UK citizens were infected by the NHS.

    We have not screened either the at risk patients 5-7 million or the huge cohorts dying from liver cancer bile duct cancer drug and alcohol liver failure.

    We are alone of the nations that used prison blood as a mainstay to fail in this.

    Lord Archer re-inforces our effort and Irwin Mitchell and Lord Jenkin sees our figures as compelling.

    Paul Desmond.
    Lord Archer re-inforces our effort and Irwin Mitchell and Lord Jenkin sees our figures as compelling.


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