Infected NHS blood inquiry opens with tribute to victims

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By Owen Bowcott

Investigation into scandal, thought to have killed more than 2,000 people, will start on Monday

The inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal in the NHS, which is estimated to have killed more than 2,000 people since the 1970s, will open in London with a commemoration of its victims.

The infected blood inquiry will investigate how so many people with haemophilia and other conditions were given blood plasma from the US carrying HIV and Hepatitis C viruses. Some products were made from blood donated by prisoners and drug addicts who were paid.

For decades, many of the families did not talk openly about the deaths because they felt there was limited public sympathy for Aids victims. Some disguised the reasons for fatalities.

Theresa May announced the inquiry in July 2017 but its opening session only begins on Monday. The commemoration, created by volunteers, uses filmed interviews, photographs, poetry and music to remember those who died. Over the next three days there will be statements on behalf of survivors and their families as well as by counsel to the inquiry, Jenni Richards QC.

The first evidence-taking sessions are scheduled to begin after Easter 2019. Before Monday’s hearing, the chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, a former high court judge, said: “Many of the people infected and their families have campaigned for the inquiry for many years. They helped to shape the inquiry’s terms of reference. This is now their opportunity to tell me where they want the inquiry to focus its investigative powers.

“The inquiry has already received over 100,000 documents and expects to acquire several times that number. There will also be many hundreds of witness statements. I am grateful for each and every contribution. There must, however, still be more who have knowledge, documents and their own accounts to add. I know that going over the past can be difficult but I encourage them to come forward.”

Des Collins, a partner at the law firm Collins Solicitors which represents more than 800 relatives and survivors, said: “Once the hearings start, and those selected as core participants start to give evidence, the thousands affected by this terrible scandal will begin the long process of understanding how and why they received infected treatments from the NHS, the details of the extensive cover-up that followed, and what the government proposes to do about it.

“For those affected, their families and the campaign groups, this is a day few thought that they would ever see – and it is a testament to those who have campaigned so hard to make it a reality. The feeling among our many clients is that they felt that the government had washed its hands of them, but now those responsible – both in government and at pharmaceutical companies – will be held to account. For so many people whether affected or mourning those who have died owing to contaminated blood treatments, this is critically important.”

The law firm Leigh Day is representing more than 240 people as core participants who have been affected by the contaminated blood, both those given the blood through routine transfusion such as following an accident, complications during childbirth or routine dental treatment, and people with haemophilia who were given infected blood products. .

The Department of Health has previously said that as many as 30,000 people may have been exposed to blood infections.

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