- An independent public inquiry opened today into how the
NHS gave thousands of haemophiliacs blood contaminated with HIV and hepatitis
- The inquiry, led by the Labour peer Lord Archer of Sandwell,
will hear evidence from patients who are now terminally ill as a result
of what has been described as "the worst treatment disaster in the
history of the NHS".
- More than 4,800 haemophiliacs in Britain were infected
with hepatitis C, and 1,200 of those also contracted HIV after being
given contaminated blood products in the 1980s and early 1990s, and many
more are terminally ill.
- More than 1,700 patients have since died, although around
380 haemophiliacs and 20 other patients given contaminated transfusions
during surgery are still alive.
- The inquiry's remit is to investigate the circumstances
surrounding the supply of contaminated blood products, examine its impact
on haemophilia patients, and to recommend steps to help those affected
and relatives of those who have already died.
- But Lord Archer, a former solicitor general, said the
inquiry was not expected to examine the treatment of individual patients
or examine the role played by particular doctors or hospitals.
- The first full hearing of the inquiry today comes after
the BBC's Newsnight programme reported that the Department of Health ignored
warnings about using haemophiliacs to test new blood products.
- Haemophilia is a blood condition in which an essential
clotting factor is either partly or completely missing, which can lead
to serious internal bleeding. Newsnight reported that many haemophiliacs
became infected from supplies of the clotting agent Factor 8 from abroad
and, unknown to them at the time, much of the plasma came from donors
such as prison inmates in the US who were allowed to sell their blood
even though there were questions about their health.
- The programme said many official documents had "mysteriously
disappeared", although the government claimed some were shredded
and others had not been released on grounds of commercial confidentiality.
- One of the "most shocking" documents was a
letter from the head of Britain's public health surveillance centre warning
the Department of Health that some Factor 8 supplies could be contaminated
with HIV. Despite this, Factor 8 imports continued to be used.
- Some haemophiliacs also told the programme that they
were convinced they were used as medical guinea pigs without their knowledge
- In some cases, even when those tests showed they were
HIV positive, the patients themselves were not told for several years.
- Lord Morris of Manchester, a former minister for the
disabled who has campaigned for years on behalf of the victims of this
"tragedy" and their families, said the opening of the inquiry
was a "historic" day for the haemophilia community.
- Previous governments had all, he claimed, "resolutely
resisted" calls for a public inquiry.
- Lord Morris, who is also president of the Haemophilia
Society, said: "For the first time the voices of the victims which
have so far gone unheard, will be heard.
- "All previous inquiries have been held behind closed
doors at the Department of Health. Now, the people who know most about
this tragedy, the victims, will be able to speak out."
- About 6,000 people have haemophilia in the UK.
- Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
- Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
- Univ of West Indies
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