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The blood contamination scandal

The blood contamination scandal


Thanks in part to the work of campaigners such as Jason Evans, an independent public inquiry has exposed one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NHS.

In 1993 when Jason Evans was just four years old his father died from HIV and Hepatitis C.  Jason’s father was one of thousands of people who were infected by contaminated blood in the 1970s and 80s after being treated for haemophilia and other bleeding disorders.  

The former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, described the scandal as “a failure of the British state”. 

Last year, the government announced it would pay £400 million compensation to victims of the UK’s blood contamination scandal.

Jason Evans is the founder and director of the campaign group, Factor 8. He told Tortoise, “the evidence is so damning and the need is so urgent.” 

Hepatitis C is a virus which predominantly causes damage to the liver. Left untreated, it can result in liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other conditions. It can often take decades for the severe symptoms of Hepatitis C to become apparent. The virus can lurk in the liver for a long time slowly doing damage.

Without treatment HIV will destroy a person’s immune system. Once it has deteriorated to a certain level, people are then classed as having Aids.

About 30,000 people are believed to have been infected, either through factor 8 blood products or through blood transfusions. 

“Factor concentrates”  are a pharmaceutical product that increasingly began to be used to treat bleeding disorders. The factor concentrates exposed a person to the blood plasma of tens of thousands of people in one shot. 

And the sources of plasma that the pharmaceutical companies were using at the time were questionable.

Jason told Tortoise, “they were collecting plasma from the prisons in America” and “they were buying in plasma” from the developing world.  

Paying for plasma has always been something the NHS is against. “You give people a motivation to lie about their lifestyle and their health status”. But a shortage of factor concentrate produced in the UK meant it was imported.  

Previously, people had been treated with cryoprecipitate which is similar to a blood transfusion where a person received one unit from one volunteer donor on the NHS. 

For decades, calls for a public inquiry to examine what happened were refused. Margaret Thatcher denied an investigation in the 1980s, as did every subsequent government.

When new evidence emerged in 2017, Theresa May announced an inquiry would take place. 

The inquiry’s second interim report has now been published, with the third and final part expected later this year. 

This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.