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Infected blood: UK apologizes for decades-long healthcare scandal

LONDON — The British government finally apologized Monday for one of the country’s worst health disasters ever.

After years of campaigning with victims, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has apologized, on behalf of the British state, for the infected blood scandal, a decades-long failure “at the heart of our national life” which should ” shake our nation to its core.”

In the UK, thousands of people died after being treated with dangerous blood products between 1970 and 1991. More and more fell ill, with more than 30,000 people infected with HIV or hepatitis C.

A lengthy public inquiry concluded Monday that the disaster could have been largely avoided. He presented a damning report which castigated the health service, Whitehall officials and successive ministers for refusing to acknowledge or remedy their mistakes.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is set to approve a multi-billion pound package on Tuesday to compensate those involved in the scandal – dubbed the worst in the history of Britain’s National Health Service.

And Sunak promised: “Whatever this project costs, we will pay it. »

In a somber statement in the House of Commons on Monday, the Prime Minister said: “Today I want to speak directly to the victims and their families… I want to offer a sincere and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice. »

Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said his own party – in government until the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s – had accepted its share of responsibility and was committed to working with the government to obtain compensation. And he deplored “one of the gravest injustices” in British history.

“Lack of frankness”

The leaders’ statements come after the final report of the damning official inquiry concluded the scandal was no accident and blamed a series of failures by the health service and governments of different political stripes.

Thousands of patients – many of whom suffered from haemophilia, an inherited blood clotting disorder – were treated by the NHS during the 1970s and 1980s with blood products which were later found to be contaminated with HIV and hepatitis.

Up to 2,900 people, including young children, are estimated to have died by 2019, with many more falling seriously ill. Those affected were receiving regular medical treatment and had no reason to believe they were in danger.

The report claimed that patients were knowingly exposed to “unacceptable” risks of infection and that many did not know whether they had been infected following blood transfusions.

He also criticized successive governments and health services for a “lack of candor” and accused British authorities of a cover-up in response to infections.

“Sometimes the truth was hidden by a treating clinician,” the report said. “Sometimes it was hidden by an organization. Sometimes this was hidden by the civil service. Sometimes this was hidden by (and sometimes from) politicians.

“This disaster was not an accident,” inquiry chairman Brian Langstaff said as he launched the report at an emotional event in Westminster, London, the heart of Britain’s power system.

“Infections occurred because authorities – doctors, blood transfusion services and successive governments – failed to prioritize patient safety,” he said. Langstaff received a standing ovation from an audience of victims and their families when the report was unveiled Monday.

Langstaff’s report was particularly critical of veteran Conservative politician Ken Clarke, who served as health secretary in the 1980s government led by Margaret Thatcher.

Clarke insisted in 1983 – and in subsequent years – that there was “no conclusive evidence” that HIV could be transmitted through blood, even though the Department of Health at the time believed that it was likely that it could be transmitted through blood and blood products.

Langstaff also accused current ministers of working at a “slow pace” on compensation for victims. Earlier, at a separate press conference in Westminster, Andy Evans, of campaign group Tainted Blood, said victims had been “pissed off for generations”.

“This report today puts an end to that situation,” Evans said. “He also looks to the future and says this cannot continue, this philosophy of denial and cover-up.”

“The worst scandal in the history of the NHS”

One of the key aspects of the scandal was the use of a factor concentrate – known as factor VIII – to treat haemophiliacs.

The then-revolutionary treatment was created by pooling blood plasma from thousands of donors and concentrating it to extract the clotting agent. This could then be used at home and would allow patients to self-medicate before suffering a life-threatening hemorrhage.

But while the extraction of the factor concentrate was seen as a major step forward in terms of treatment, a single contaminated sample could infect an entire batch – and the investigation found that health officials and the government did not had not taken into account the risks, leading to a catastrophe.

“For decades this was not accepted by the government,” Diana Johnson, a Labor MP and chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, told POLITICO on Monday. “There was a cover-up for 40 years.”

Following the publication of two interim reports from Langstaff in 2022 and 2023, the government paid interim compensation to around 4,000 survivors and bereaved partners.

But many others affected have not received those payments, and all eyes are now on the government as it prepares to unveil its new compensation package on Tuesday.

Dan Bloom contributed reporting.


Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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