Potentially one of the biggest blunders in NHS history, the infected blood scandal took place over a course of 20 years starting from the 1970s, where an estimated 5,000 people diagnosed with haemophilia were injected with contaminated blood products. Haemophilia is where a person has a reduced ability to form blood clots, resulting in large blood loss when they have small cuts. The condition is typically caused by a hereditary lack of a coagulation factor, most often factor VIII.
How did this happen?
These problems first began to arise due to the NHS struggling to keep up with demand for the treatment, since blood products were made from concentrated human plasma which there wasn’t enough supply of in the UK. Therefore, more blood products, known as clotting agent Factor VIII, were imported from the US. These products were contaminated with HIV and hepatitis viruses.
It was just a mistake, what’s so controversial?
A huge source of controversy arises from the fact that these blood products were not screened properly back in the 1970s despite warnings from the suppliers, drug companies, NHS officials and specialist doctors were prepared to take the risk and didn’t inform those who were receiving the blood products of the potential risks involved. As a result of this grave mistake, of the 5,000 haemophiliacs treated at the time, around 3,000 have died, many due to Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a condition which can result in many serious side effects, like extreme fatigue, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer, and a potential cure for this, a drug called Sofosbuvir, has been delayed by the NHS due to huge costs (£1bn per 20,000 people treated). This is another source of controversy since it has been debated that those who have Hepatitis C as a result of the contaminated blood scandal are being refused the treatment they need before their condition progresses to stages which would end up costing the NHS more anyway. (£50,000 for a liver transplant).
Is anything being done to fix this mistake?
2 previous private inquiries have taken place, but since they did not have the power to call witnesses, a new public inquiry is currently takingplace. Payments have already been made to some of the people who were infected with the first fund set up in 1989, but if the new inquiry finds another source of responsibility, victims can recieve large compensation pay outs through the courts.
However, due to the time lag in starting this inquiry, conditions could have been spread, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, resulting in a larger number of affected people, spanning multiple generations. This is the start of something big which has been ignored for decades and could result in some major changes in the NHS.