Find out more about the Infected Blood Inquiry

Des Collins is representing many of the Infected Blood victims and their families.

Des Collins is representing many of the Infected Blood victims and their families. - Credit: HUNTS POST

During the 1970s/80s thousands of NHS patients were infected with life-changing, chronic diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis, after receiving donated blood and blood plasma products.

Most of those who became infected suffered from a genetic bleeding disorder called haemophilia, which results in the blood not clotting properly.

In the 1970s, freeze-dried clotting agents called Factor 8 and Factor 9 became widely available. These Factor concentrates revolutionised haemophilia treatment because they could be stored at home, allowing patients to self-infuse.

Factor 8 concentrates were supposed to revolutionise treatment for haemophiliacs.

Factor 8 concentrates were supposed to revolutionise treatment for haemophiliacs. - Credit: HUNTS POST

We know now that much of the donated blood and plasma used to make Factor products was contaminated. It is estimated that more than 1,300 people in the UK were infected with HIV, more than 4,000 with Hepatitis and at least 1,500 people have died, and that figure continues to grow.

Some were co-infected with Hepatitis and HIV. Many also suffered the social stigma of a HIV diagnosis at a time when there was mass public hysteria, prejudice and ignorance around this new virus sweeping the world.

Decades of campaigning by victims and their families reveals a deeply appalling episode in our history. 

In September 2018, a public inquiry was launched to examine the circumstances of how this could have happened.

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The inquiry is looking into how victims and families have been impacted, how the authorities, including Government, responded; the nature of any support provided following infection; questions of consent; and crucially, who knew what, and when.

Thousands of documents have been amassed, and these, and patient medical records put before the inquiry show that during the 1970s and 80s, blood and blood products were imported from the US in order to meet NHS demand.

Imported donations were pooled to make blood clotting concentrates for haemophiliacs, but pregnant women, children and dental patients also received infected blood via transfusions.

What none of the recipients knew, was that much of this imported blood originated from prisoners, alcoholics, sex workers and people living on the streets who had been paid for their donations.

Some of the donors were carrying diseases and infections, and as there were no screening programmes available at this time, Hepatitis and HIV was passed on to thousands of patients undergoing routine treatments. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that products were heat-treated to kill viruses and by the late 1990s synthetic treatments for haemophilia became available, removing the infection risk.

Collins Solicitors are representing many of the victims, or their family members.

Des Collins told The Hunts Post: "In May 1983, the director of the Communicable Diseases Surveillance Centre, a Dr Gailbrath, wrote to the Department of Health to advise that all blood products made from blood donated in the USA after 1973 be withdrawn from use due to the risk of AIDS.

Des Collins is representing many of the Infected Blood victims and their families.

Des Collins is representing many of the Infected Blood victims and their families. - Credit: HUNTS POST

"Following that, in June, 1983, the Council of Europe, recommended to the Department of Health that people using the products and their physicians be informed about the risk of AIDS.

"Then we have someone saying these recommendations should remain confidential due to commercial implications. All those warnings were ignored. As a result of that we had a developing crisis.

"The case has been put to the High Court and a group litigation is in place, but before we could move that forward, Theresa May announced the public inquiry. We agreed with the Department of Health that pending the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff, we would keep the litigation on hold. It is not stopped, it is just frozen. We are hopeful that the recommendations of the public inquiry will be favourable to the claimants, in which case the Government will take a responsible attitude and take the proper steps to put matters right. If they don't, we press the button and go straight back into court."