It is interesting to look back on the system of 30 years ago, and the enquiry will have to be careful to apply the standards of the time, rather than those of today. Nevertheless, this is a large iatrogenic scandal. I have at least two patients, and two friends who were affected by either Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, or HIV from blood transfusions. One is a Haemophiliac, and has been “cured” of Hep C.
I tried to find evidence of the same damage to patients in the USA. There is little information, and I get the impression that the products affected were used in the US as well as the UK. Even today, Canada buys a lot of blood products from it’s neighbour.
There is no excuse for not having enough of our own. Inducements are needed. Why not have a two tier car tax and motor cycle tax system with a lower rate for donors? ID cards with tax codes could also facilitate a reduction for donors. Former cancer patients, of whom there are many, could also be allowed to give blood after a suitable quarantine interval.
Former High Court judge Brian Langstaff will chair the inquiry, which is expected to take at least two and a half years. A previous inquiry concluded in 2009 found that ministers should have acted sooner to make British blood supplies more self-sufficient to lessen reliance on imports. Other countries do it better. We have a lot to learn.
A short history of the scandal
About 5,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders are believed to have been infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses over a period of more than 20 years – nearly 3,000 of them have since died.
This was because they were injected with blood products used to help their blood clot.
It was a new treatment introduced in the early 1970s. Before then patients faced lengthy stays in hospital to have transfusions, even for minor injuries.
Britain was struggling to keep up with demand for the treatment – known as clotting agent Factor VIII – and so supplies were imported from the US.
But much of the human blood plasma used to make the product came from donors such as prison inmates, who sold their blood.
The blood products were made by pooling plasma from up to 40,000 donors, and concentrating it.
People who underwent blood transfusions were also exposed to the contaminated blood – as many as 30,000 people may have been infected.
By the mid-1980s the products started to be heat-treated to kill the viruses.
But questions remain about how much was known before this, and why some contaminated products remained in circulation.
Screening of blood products began in 1991 and by the late 1990s, synthetic treatments for haemophilia became available, removing the infection risk.