“Ticking clock” running down for victims and families of infected blood “scandal”

Tony Farrugia gave evidence at the Infected Blood inquiry.

Tony Farrugia gave evidence at the Infected Blood inquiry. - Credit: Archant

St Neots man Tony Farrugia, whose father died in 1986 after receiving infected blood products, has expressed his frustration at delays to the public hearing set up to investigate the “medical disaster”.

His father Barry, a haemophiliac, contracted hepatitis and HIV from contaminated blood products he was given to treat his condition. Two of Tony’s uncles also died after being given contaminated blood products.

It is now known that by the late 1970s blood products were commonly being prescribed for haemophilia. Before this time, the most prescribed treatment was Cryoprecipitate which was safer because each unit was derived from the blood-plasma of one donor.

Blood factor products were created by mixing the plasma donations of tens of thousands of people from the US and elsewhere and this included prisoners, prostitutes and drug users who were paid for their donations.

It is estimated that 3,891 people in the UK (mostly haemophiliacs) have been infected with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV from a commercial medicine known as a Factor VIII, or, in some cases, Factor IX.

Victims of the scandal have been campaigning for decades for acknowledgement and compensation and finally in July, 2017, the then Prime Minister Theresa May announced a public inquiry, which opened in May 2018. The hearing, led by Sir Brian Langstaff, has heard some oral evidence but due to coronavirus restrictions it will not hear live evidence again until mid-September.

Mr Farrugia, says while he understands the reasoning behind the delays, it is imperative that vital witness testimony from victims, medical staff and Government officials is heard.

Most Read

He described the urgency as a “ticking clock” hanging over all those involved in the scandal, which is thought to have claimed 3,000 lives.

“The problem with even more delays is that we are talking about events that happened in the seventies and eighties and it could be difficult for people to remember events exactly as they happened so long ago. The inquiry is also due to hear from doctors and medical professionals, many of whom could be in their eighties now, and may not be in the best of health themselves. As each year goes by we lose more and more victims who are then not around to give their oral evidence so it is vital that there are no more delays.”

Mr Farrugia, who has already given his oral evidence about the impact of his father’s death on the family, to the inquiry team, also wants to see parity in compensation schemes across the devolved nations.

“The best scheme is the one in Scotland, but there are differences in all the schemes, for example, England and Wales do not recognise widows. But all the schemes need to be brought into line so that all the victims and families are treated equally and fairly.

“This was a public disaster. The worst in the history of the NHS. My dad was a guinea pig while they waited to see what effect HIV would have on humans. People have suffered ridicule, shame as well as the most unbearable agonising deaths and we have been starved of justice.

The inquiry was set to hear from doctors, politicians, civil servants and pharmaceutical company employees in June. It is planned the oral evidence is expected to resume on September 22 and continue until the end of 2021. A final report will be published in 2022.

According to medical records obtained by Tony, his father has a mild form of haemophilia and was treated at the Royal London Hospital and the University Hospital of Wales.

He began to receive Factor VIII products in August 1977 after being admitted to the hospital in Wales where he was treated for a forearm bleed.

In a harrowing account, Tony told the inquiry hearing his father told him he was HIV positive and even as a child he knew how serious things were as the film star Rock Hudson had just been diagnosed with HIV and newspaper headlines were screaming “gay plague”.