Former health minister Lord David Owen will give evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry today (September 22).
Lord Owen’s evidence comes ahead of a new 90-minute television documentary about the contaminated blood scandal which features an interview with St Neots man Tony Farrugia.
Tony’s father, Barry, who was a haemophiliac, died in September 1986, after contracting the HIV virus from contaminated blood products. The lives of Tony and his twin brother David were torn apart when they were taken into separate care homes after their father died. Barry Farrugia, like so many of the victims, died an agonising death at a time when there was so much public shame around Aids and HIV.
Lord Owen was minister of state for health from 1974 - 1976, pledging that the UK would become self-sufficient in blood products. That never happened, and instead, the UK imported large quantities of Factor VIII from high-risk sources overseas, including prisoners and drug addicts who were paid for their blood donations.
Now a life peer, Lord Owen has publicly described the scandal as a cover-up and has said that legally, “the government hasn’t got a leg to stand on”. His testimony could prove explosive and means it will then be part of the official record. For those who have been impacted by the scandal, it is what they have been waiting to hear for decades.
Des Collins (senior partner at Collins Solicitors) who represents 1,500 people, including Mr Farrugia, said: “The resumption of the Infected Blood Inquiry is a new opportunity for politicians and medical professionals to come clean as to their involvement in the biggest medical scandal in living memory. We applaud Lord Owen for giving his testimony – he has long stated his disapproval of the way Whitehall has treated those who were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Mr Farrugia added: “Ironically, the date of the reopening of the enquiry marks the anniversary of my father’s death, but we are all relieved that it will now finally get going again.
All we are asking is for the Government to listen and work with us. There is still a long way to go and lot of evidence to be heard and many of those involved in making decisions at the time are no longer with us or are quite elderly, which means the inquiry really needs to push on.”
Factor VIII is a clotting medication for Haemophilia. It infected around 4,000 people with Hepatitis C in the 1970s/1980s, and more than 1,200 of those people were also infected with HIV. At least 1,500 have since died as a result. It is estimated that one victim continues to die every four days.
Jason Evans, founder of the Factor 8 campaign group, said: “Victims and families have waited a long time for this moment and I think Lord Owen also has. He has long been a supporter of our campaign and has made several attempts over the years to expose wrong-doing. We hope that following this evidence; the Government will not delay any further in accepting its clear liability.”
“It’s high time that successive health secretaries and ministers, each with responsibility for an apparent abrogation of duty, showed similar resolve and came to the Inquiry to give detailed and testimony. After some 40 years, the infected and affected deserve to hear the truth from those in charge at the time. We also renew our calls for the Government to accept liability and pay immediate, meaningful compensation to all those whose lives have been destroyed by the contaminated blood scandal – the victims and their families have a right to justice now, rather than waiting until the Inquiry reports in a couple of years’ time.”
The hearings are taking place at Fleetbank House, London, EC4Y 8AE and can also be followed live on the Infected Blood Inquiry website/youtube channel.
ITV’s “In Cold Blood” is a new 90-minute feature-length documentary in the award-winning Exposure current affairs strand which examines the biggest treatment disaster in NHS history. It airs on Sunday (September 27) at 10.20pm.