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Commons Vote On The Infected Blood Scandal Passes 246 to 242

Blood samples in test tubes

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

On December 4th 2023, the House of Commons voted on the amendment New Clause 27 (NC27), winning the vote 246 to 242.

The result of this vote will be the establishment by law of a ‘body…to pay compensation to those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal within 3 months of the Act passing’. Diana Johnson MP, tweeting about the win, calls it an ‘important step forward in what has been an extraordinarily long fight for justice’ 

The ‘contaminated blood scandal’ refers to a situation which has been described as ‘the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS’. Between 1970 and 1991, ~5000 people with haemophilia and other blood disorders, alongside an unknown number of patients without blood disorders, were treated with blood transfusions containing HIV or Hepatitis C. As a result of the infected transfusions, 26,800 people contracted hepatitis C, with 1800 dying, and 1350 were infected with HIV and ~650 of those dying. It is estimated that 3000 people have died in total, with the death toll continuing to rise.  

To date, nobody has been prosecuted for the event; the Haemophilia Society (THS) has been pushing for a public inquiry into the scandal since 1988, with the hope that those responsible will be brought to justice. “We welcome scrutiny of our role, as well as that of other organisations involved. We hope this inquiry will finally deliver closure, justice and recognition of what has happened and the suffering it has caused”. 

Prior to 1970, these blood conditions were treated with plasma transfusion, but in the 70s this process was replaced with a new product called ‘factor concentrate’

Haemophilia is a condition, generally inherited, which affects the blood’s ability to clot due to the lack of a specific protein, typically one called ‘factor VIII’. As a result, any injury which breaks the skin, however small, is potentially a massive threat, because the mechanism which usually stops us from bleeding when cut will not work. 

Prior to 1970, these blood conditions were treated with plasma transfusion, but in the 70s this process was replaced with a new product called ‘factor concentrate’. Factor concentrate is produced by collecting blood plasma from up to 40,000 different donors and condensing it so that the necessary clotting factor can be separated. This is especially dangerous because a single contaminated sample can cause the entire batch to be infected. In this specific case, factor concentrate produced in the UK suffered a massive shortage during this time and thus the substance was heavily imported from the US instead. When producing factor concentrate, the US took samples from ‘high-risk’ paid donors, a group which included large percentages of prisoners and drug addicts. 

It is understood that leading clinicians, and the UK government, were aware of the significant risks associated with the use of this product but determined to not take ‘appropriate action’ to halt its use and switch to safer alternatives. As of 1975, outbreaks of hepatitis started to be reported, with the first death of a man having contracted AIDS from an infected blood sample being reported in 1982. This was followed by the publication of a warning about the dangers associated with infected blood transfusions, and later warning from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Prior to 2022 no victims of the scandal had received any kind of financial compensation

In 2017, then Prime Minister Theresa May called for an inquiry into the scandal, describing it as “an appalling tragedy which should simply never have happened”, which officially opened in 2018 – hearings for this inquiry lasted from April 2019 until January 2023. The inquiry has heard testimonies from nearly 400 witnesses since opening. 

Prior to 2022 no victims of the scandal had received any kind of financial compensation, but in 2022 the Chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, recommended that every person currently registered on a UK infected blood support group receive a payment of £100,000. The government accepted this recommendation, with affected people being granted this payment in October of that year. There are other established support schemes for those suffering as a result of infected blood, a summary of which can be found here 

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary at the time of speaking, stated: “The infected blood scandal should never have happened” and the recommendations were “an important step in righting this historic wrong.” 

It is understood that the UK government wished the full report to be published prior to confirming a framework for delivering compensation. Despite having accepted that “wrongs were done” and “additional suffering” was caused as a direct result of an ineffective response to the issue, they continue to be heavily criticised for their response to the matter. One such example is the accusal of ‘betrayal’ directed at the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after he refused to make any new commitments during his appearance at the official inquiry on 26th July 2023. 

The new amendment (NC27) will call for compensation to also be paid to those who weren’t directly infected but were massively affected by the scandal, such as family members of deceased victims, as well as speeding up the process of compensation. Although financial compensation will in no way eliminate the large amount of suffering that this scandal has caused, and continues to cause, it is hoped that providing compensatory packages to those affected will help to alleviate some of the pain. 

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

Featured image courtesy of National Cancer Institute via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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