Dr Blogs

Contaminated Blood Inquiry – families deserve answers over lack of warnings

The long awaited public inquiry into contaminated blood was opened on 30 April 2019, chaired by retired High Court Judge Sir Brian Langstaff. In the 1970s and 1980s over 4,500 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disordered were multi-infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C and a range of other blood borne viruses. Sadly over 2,000 people have since died.

People with bleeding disorders lack a protein, most commonly Factor 8 or Factor 9 that enables their blood to clot. This means that even minor injuries can lead to difficult to treat bleeds. Treatment requires regular replacement of the missing protein by intravenous injection.

In the 1970s, fresh-frozen plasma and cryoprecipitate that contains the missing proteins were replaced with a new product, Factor Concentrate. This was a revolutionary new treatment, allowing patients for the first time to be treated prophylactically – to reduce the likelihood of bleeds and resulting joint damage.

These treatments however were produced using a process which involved pooling human blood plasma from up to 100,000 donors, and concentrating it to extract the required factor. Blood products were known to transfer viruses such as hepatitis and this risk was vastly increased when they were pooled using the new techniques.

The risks were further exacerbated when suppliers of UK produced factor concentrates were not sufficient to cope with NHS demand, and products were increasingly imported from the United States.

Large groups of paid donors were used (as many as 60,000 per batch including prisoners and drug addicts) and it only required one infected donor to contaminate the entire batch, which would then infect all of the patients that received that material.

These risks appear to have been ignored by both leading clinicians and the government, who failed to take appropriate action to end their use and return to safer products. Pharmaceutical companies and doctors did not appropriately share information about risks with patients and patient groups.  Many people were infected with deadly viruses during this time.

Eventually products were heat treated to destroy dangerous viruses, but this only started in the late 1990s, effectively eliminating the risks from viruses and other contaminants.

It appears that the NHS did not communicate the known risks to patients, nor did it change its practices to avoid using blood products for patients only needing occasional treatment, who could have been treated with safer alternatives.

Patients were tested for viruses without permission and were not told the results until years later.  Some were denied appropriate treatment and, in some cases, infected their partners and other family members.

After years of campaigning by victims of the contaminated blood scandal, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of The Infected Blood Inquiry on 11 July 2017, which is now hearing evidence. The inquiry will consider evidence from approximately 2,500 people, most of whom were infected with, or affected by contaminated blood products, such as Factor 8 or 9.

The inquiry will wish to investigate why victims/relatives were not warned about the safety of the medicine, why plans to make the UK self-sufficient in blood products were scrapped and why many documents and patient records appear to have been lost or destroyed.

No government, healthcare, or pharmaceutical entity in the UK has admitted any liability in this scandal and no damages or compensation has been paid to those infected or affected, although the government has provided some means-tested benefits to some of the surviving victims through a trust.

A group legal action was commenced against the Department of Health in July 2017. This litigation has been put on hold pending the outcome of the inquiry, albeit the Court has ordered that all new Claimants register with the Contaminated Blood Products Group litigation by 31 May 2019.

It is already clear from the evidence heard by the inquiry to date that contaminated blood has had a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of people and the response to date, both by the government and the NHS, has been shockingly poor.

It has taken in excess of thirty years to achieve this inquiry and it is now hoped that this terrible wrong will now be investigated and answers will be given to the families who have been desperately seeking the truth for such a long time.

Robert Rose, Partner and Head of Clinical Negligence at Lime Solicitors

Bookmark and Share

Post a Comment

Enter this security code

Submit Comment for Moderation