Our Contaminated Blood Scandal

13558_Life_Blood_Front_CoverThis is a letter from Gill Fyffe, Hep C survivor. Gill’s book LifeBlood was published yesterday by Freight Books and is available here. Penrose is the only public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal in the UK and was instigated by Nicola Sturgeon.

Dear Ms Sturgeon,

I write to you not for your politics but to thank you for your courage because once long ago, as Cabinet Secretary for Health, you ordered Lord Penrose to conduct a Public Inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal.

Lord Winston called it the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, and of course it is not only a Scottish scandal. But for the last twenty six years, since I was given my infected transfusion, the Government in Westminster has refused to hold a Public Inquiry. Unlike you, they were not prepared that political ambition should overlap with truth and responsibility, with public accountability, with letting the electorate listen to the facts.

And as a consequence, for the last quarter of a century, two different questions have been muddled up. The first question is ‘was somebody negligent?’ And the second question is ‘should those infected be offered compensation?’

In the House of Commons Government spokesmen have got up time after time to explain that compensation was paid in the Republic of Ireland because a Public Inquiry had shown its officials negligent, whereas no Public Inquiry had shown British officials negligent. This has been a pretty vicious trick, because of course British officials have always refused to hold the Public Inquiry which could have proved them negligent. In the end, the Republic of Ireland got so fed up listening to this nonsense that it sent a special message to tell the House of Commons that Dublin had set up its compensation scheme before its Public Inquiry reported.

It is for others to decide whether the concept of compensation is fair in an already unfair world, whether it should be apportioned by some universal law, or particularly for the victims of contaminated blood scandals, or best kept for high-earning chief executives of banks, ex-director generals of the BBC and so forth. The very fact that compensation is usually awarded through the courts, and is therefore more accessible to those who can afford to pay a lawyer, destroys all notion that it is somehow about ‘fairness’. All I have to say about compensation is that to be ‘fair’ it would have to be, like treatment on the NHS, free at the point of delivery and available to chief executives and transfusion victims alike.

But as it isn’t, contaminated transfusion victims in Britain continue to suffer from the perverse logic that if they haven’t got any compensation, then nobody was negligent and they don’t deserve any. It follows that instead of complaining about their contaminated transfusions, they ought to shut up and take them on the chin.

Well, I took mine on the chin. I took it on the chin when I wasn’t informed for seven years  that I had been infected with Hepatitis C. By that time my chances of recovery were significantly reduced. I had grown too exhausted to work. I had fallen asleep at the wheel and written off my car.

But I took it on the chin, punched Alpha Interferon injections into my thighs for a year, and took it on the chin again when the treatment failed. When I was told I wasn’t worth more Interferon treatment, I took that on the chin too, signing away my medical rights to get myself a second go by enrolling on a trial of a new drug, Ribavirin, which is used in combination with Alpha Interferon. I even took it on the chin when I was cured, and had won back a home and a career, only to lose them to a well-documented side-effect of Interferon treatment, auto-immune disease, which I haven’t the legal fees to prove.

So it was a huge step forward when Lord Penrose decided to separate out the question ‘was somebody negligent?’ and concentrate on that.

From the reports that I have read, beneath a quarter century of headlines in the British Library Newspaper Archive, there is little doubt that the British contaminated blood scandal was exacerbated by negligent officials. There are too many reports of warnings from the United States, and from members of advisory committees here, to avoid the conclusion that Britain knew its blood supply was not safe. The Government’s own report Self Sufficiency in Blood Products 2006 admitted that civil servants had to take a calculated risk, vis-à-vis infection rates, while our blood supply was redesigned. It was their job to do that. It was also their job to calculate that risk correctly.

When the British Government claimed in 2010 that with new knowledge… comes often deep regret, it was suggesting that when our daughter was born there was not enough information available to make that calculation. But the record shows there was. Civil servants who thought the risks associated with contaminated blood supplies was worth taking were careless with the facts. Even worse, once the dreadful consequence of that carelessness became apparent, their calculations were inadvertently destroyed by an over-zealous civil servant.

The word ‘over-zealous’ was used in a letter to a former Minister for Health to suggest that civil servants who destroyed hundreds of files of evidence were only extra thorough and hard working. But it is not thorough and hard working to destroy hundreds of important files. It is either a cover up or it is carelessness, again.

And it is bad enough coping with Hepatitis C without the irritation that those who brought about the infection of five thousand people, and the deaths of half of them, are now passing themselves off as over-zealous. Whoever puts out these sorts of excuses makes our Government look ridiculous.

Nor should our Government insult surviving transfusion victims with ten thousand pound bribes to agree it is not liable for their missing salaries. If we are now required by the British taxpayer to bear the loss of our salaries with equanimity – to take one for the team – then let the Government respect us for it. Let them say what happened to you need not have happened, at least not on this scale. Someone made a mistake. And it is now too late to put it right.

Because nothing can rewrite a quarter century of broken health and broken hearts. No compensation will bring two thousand dead back into life. And no apology now relieves the suffering their families have known.

It would be cruel to demand that an apology delivered thirty years late must be accepted. In fact, it must be acceptable. It must mean that next time official mistakes are made, someone resigns.



LifeBlood by Gill Fyffe is published by Freight Books, 2015

Comments (12)

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  1. volepark says:

    In Other countries the Health ministers responsible went to prison but not here – no one has been held responsible .

  2. BigMac says:

    Did most of these blood products come from America?
    Did the UK financial crisis originate in America?
    Did American foreign policy affected our position re exposure to terrorism?
    I wonder what TTIP will bring us?
    Just wondering!

  3. GERRY rOBERTSON says:

    Regretfully I doubt I can say anything to alleviate the pain these victims have suffered but something needs to urgently change in this country to bring justice and fairness to so many people who continue to be adversely affected by the establishment. This has gone on far too long and unless we have a truly open society then anarchy is just round the corner.

  4. David McCann says:

    Is it just me or do I detect a whiff of blame being attached to the Scottish government by our media?
    The omission of the information from our MSM, that it was Nicola Sturgeon as the then Health Minister, who set up the enquiry, leaves me in no doubt that this was quite deliberate, and whilst they did not actually say that the SG was partly responsible, it was certainly implied, by that omission.

    1. Iain More says:

      It isn’t just you! I got exactly same stench wafting across my nostrils as you did!

  5. Gordon says:

    With knowledge of the provenance of the blood used for transfusions at that time, it was an act of gross negligence not to have it screened thoroughly for infectious agents. The blood was known to have originated in the streets of American cities from down and outs and drug addicts selling it to get their next fix and from convicts in British jails. But no, the competent and infallible officials in Central government must retain their jobs and reputation, even if it means destroying damning evidence and leaving thousands to die in sickness and poverty. I’m still wondering about Alzheimer’s and BSE. The British Establishment is in irreversible decay and can no longer be seen to be serving the interests of the people of the British Isles. It’s time to get out and acquire an Irish-type administration.

  6. colin young says:

    Blood transfusion prior to hand surgery saved my hand but left me with hep c.

  7. Lochside says:

    This classic horror story of lying British State collusion originated in Thatcher’s time. The rotten ‘market led ‘ ideology that allowed US prisoners with known drug habits to provide tainted blood defies all understanding.

    But only if the original venal political thinking behind the drone civil servants decisions is ignored or suppressed.

    Everything I have seen from the BBC and ITV in Scotland has endeavoured to taint the Scottish Government with this scandal by omission. Who under the age of thirty five knows the truth of these events? No doubt CJD will somehow be Alec Salmond’s responsibility next.

    The tragedy is that NS appointed another predictable ‘safe pair of hands’ Lord instead of someone outside the establishment. Someone who could have pointed the finger at the Civil Service Individuals who must have made the decisions and the Politicians who directed the policy.

    1. Gordon says:

      The ‘safe pair of hands’ could only come to one conclusion after all the evidence had been destroyed. How could Nicola Sturgeon come out of this badly? She was the only person in the UK to instigate an inquiry, and if anyone was to blame, they would be in Whitehall, and any compensation or sanction would have been laid at their door. This was a UK-wide tragedy – not just Scottish.

      1. douglas clark says:

        You say:

        The ‘safe pair of hands’ could only come to one conclusion after all the evidence had been destroyed.

        Whatever the terms of reference given, any decent investigator would have seen that as an attempt, successful in this instance, to block their investigation.

        He or she should have led with that. “My attempt to investigate has been hindered by the destruction of evidence” or some such. The more reports that make that point, the less likely it is that it will be used in the future.

        I am reminded of the Glenrothes destruction of evidence here.

        No bureaucracy nor political party should be allowed to kill the paper trail.

        Destroying evidence is, well, worse than refusing a breath test. It is a deliberate cover-up, without the sanctions that refusing a breath test imposes.

        Are they not guilty by default?

  8. Drew Campbell says:

    I’ve read several articles and news reports on this sad, disgusting saga but nothing so moving and so cogent as Gill’s piece here. The negligence in the first instance was staggering, but all the subsequent cover-ups, denials and procrastination is simply cynical, corrupt politics, and all the more disgusting for it. It seems destroying inconvenient records is de rigeur throughout our public services – paedophile rings, our own stop & search records – which begs the question why legislation is not introduced to regulate such activity.

    It may be small comfort but you and your fellow campaigners have fought a mighty and moral fight. I hope you can take inspiration from the tenaciousness of the Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday campaigners, and maintain the belief that political circumstances can and will change to your advantage.

    Good luck, Gill.

  9. wend clark says:

    I have watched my beloved sister, our siblings, parents and their grandchildren survive this atrocity. She was infected and our family have by her and her children’s example survived the traumas this brings, daily, to a family’s life. Will the British Government ever show the humanity that can bring so much comfort after so much suffering. The disgrace is to perpetuate this disaster. Give these women and men back their dignity with your respect. These women and men are our sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

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