More than 500 victims of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) contaminated blood scandal have been given permission to sue the government for compensation, reports The Guardian. The claimants, a mix of haemophiliac survivors and relatives of those killed by infected blood products over the past 30 years, were granted a group litigation order to begin proceedings in the High Court at a preliminary hearing in London. The judge dismissed attempts by Department of Health lawyers to delay the claim.
The report says more than 2,400 people are estimated to have died after receiving blood plasma products manufactured in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. The products were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV. For decades many of the families did not openly talk about the deaths because they felt there was limited public sympathy for Aids victims. Some disguised the reasons for fatalities.
The report says the claims have been brought partly out of frustration at government delays in establishing a public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal. On 11 July, the prime minister, Theresa May, announced there would be an investigation but since then no chair has been appointed and its terms of reference have not been agreed.
Lawyers for the families have argued that limited legal settlements reached in the 1990s are invalid because key facts were withheld at the time from surviving patients and bereaved relatives about the blood products. “Freedom of information requests have unearthed minutes of meetings and recommendations to the government which strongly suggest that the risks and dangers were known from at last 1983,” Steven Snowden QC told the hearing. Yet that information was not passed on to patients until 1986/7, he said.
The number of survivors and relatives planning to join the group litigation claim has now risen to at least 500 people, the court heard.
According to the report, Hannah Slarks, for the government, said that some claimants would “face substantial obstacles in attempting to resurrect claims” previously settled in the 1990s. She asked for a postponement until legal issues became clearer. But the judge hearing the application, Senior Master Fontaine, ruled: “It would not be sensible to delay further. The question of a public inquiry is a matter within the government’s hands.”
Jason Evans, 28, from Coventry, the lead claimant in the case, said he was “elated by the decision”. His father, Jonathan, died at the age of 31, from hepatitis C and HIV. “My father was infected in November 1984 but they didn’t tell him until 1985,” Evans said. “He died in 1993. He was a haemophiliac. He was given factor 8 intravenously. It was derived from blood plasma given by people who were paid to donate, including drug addicts and prisoners in the US. It was all mixed together. So you only had to have one person who was infected to contaminate the batch.
“I was born in 1989. My mum and dad knew they were taking a huge risk. Neither I nor my mother were infected. I remember my dad’s funeral. I knew that he had died from Aids. I was taunted at school but I really didn’t understand it at the time. The public inquiry needs a chair as soon as possible. At the moment nothing is happening. The Department of Health is in charge of it so there is a conflict of interest [in their involvement in this case].
“This country had failed to become self-sufficient in factor 8 so we had to import it from the States. David Owen, who was then health minister, told parliament that it was policy for us to become self-sufficient in 1975 but it was never seen through.” There are estimated to be around 2,000 infected haemophiliacs still alive.
Chris Smith, 39, from Bedford, another claimant, lost his father when he was eight years old. “It was pretty devastating,” he said. “I had never realised there was anything wrong with him. Because of the stigma [associated with] Aids, we used to tell people he died of cancer or in a car crash.
“It has taken more than a year and a half to get the medical records. They kept on telling me they didn’t have anything but then a month ago they gave me 120 pages. One of the notes was from a doctor. It said: ‘I have not yet told Mr Smith the results, however, I see him frequently and when he comes into the lab to collect his supplies, I will try and catch him…’”
The report says the Department of Health has extended consultations on the inquiry until 18 October.
[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/26/contaminated-blood-scandal-victims-win-ruling-to-launch-high-court-action"]The Guardian report[/link]