The biggest disaster in NHS history

Published by The Mail on Sunday (22nd March, 2015)

The Government will apologise this week for what has been called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the National Health Service – the infection of thousands of patients with deadly diseases through use of contaminated blood products.

Following the personal intervention of David Cameron, there will be a formal statement of regret given to the House of Commons, similar to those acknowledging the official failures of Bloody Sunday and the Hillsborough football disaster.

This will come after the publication on Wednesday of the 1,800-page Penrose Inquiry, a six-year report into a scandal that has led to more than 2,000 British deaths.

About 7,500 people, many of them haemophiliacs, are known to have contracted HIV and hepatitis C after being given imported blood products taken from high-risk donors such as prostitutes and prisoners in the 1970s and 1980s.

Their lives were devastated, with many unable ever to work again and forced into financial hardship. Scores of victims needed liver transplants or regular dialysis, while others inadvertently infected partners and children.

Health officials believe another 27,000 patients may have been infected with hepatitis without ever being identified.

The £11 million inquiry led by Scottish judge Lord Penrose was set up by the Scottish Parliament to probe claims that Ministers, civil servants and health authorities were slow to heed warning signs and subsequently covered up their complacency.

Since it covers a period before health services were devolved, the heavily delayed findings will have ramifications across the entire country. Warning letters have been sent to those facing significant criticism.

Although the Government may not give its full response to the report this week, it intends to put aside extra money for victims. ‘There’s a feeling we need to right a historic wrong,’ said one Westminster source. ‘This is a failure of even greater magnitude than Hillsborough.’

Victims have long complained about discretionary financial support distributed through five different trusts, leaving claimants complaining of feeling like ‘modern-day beggars’. Many were not expected to live long in the days before HIV became more treatable.

Mr Cameron has heard first-hand from constituents about the tragic impact of contaminated blood. ‘We should be helping these people more,’ he said earlier this month.

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