Health bosses secretly admitted they were at fault over the contaminated blood scandal nearly 30 years ago, official documents reveal.
Governments have always denied wrongdoing and insisted the disaster was a tragic accident.
But behind closed doors, officials acknowledged hundreds of patients had been given contaminated blood when safer treatments were available.
Health bosses secretly admitted they were at fault over the contaminated blood scandal nearly 30 years ago, official documents reveal (stock image)
Newly-released documents reveal how ministers were being privately briefed by lawyers that government cost-cutting policies were to blame.
In the 1970s and 80s, the Department of Health imported blood products from the US because it was cheaper than producing them in Britain. These products were contaminated with HIV and hepatitis as the blood had been donated by high risk groups – including prisoners and the homeless – in exchange for cash. More than 7,500 patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through NHS blood products and transfusions.
Many had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and relied on contaminated injections of Factor VIII, a US product. It was the worst treatment disaster in NHS history – but nobody has yet been held responsible.
The documents – obtained via Freedom of Information laws – are internal memos from the Department of Health and the Treasury, which were concerned about having to pay compensation to victims. One reveals an admission from the Department of Health that 500 haemophiliac patients had contracted HIV – entirely avoidably. Thousands more would go on to develop hepatitis.
Many had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and relied on contaminated injections of Factor VIII, a US product (stock image)
The document, dated November 26, 1990, states: ‘There seems a considerable danger that courts would bend over backwards to make awards to as many haemophiliacs as possible, by setting an early date after which the NHS could reasonably have been expected to have introduced new forms of treatment.’
The ‘new forms’ of treatment refer to safer, heat-treated products which came on to the market in the mid-1980s – but were expensive. They may also include an older form of treatment – frozen blood products called cryoprecipitate – given to patients before Factor VIII became available.
An earlier memo shows then health secretary Ken Clarke admitting that some patients who had caught HIV from blood had ‘very strong’ medical negligence cases. At the time, Mr Clarke – who remains a Tory MP – was publicly insisting that the tragedy was ‘nobody’s fault’. A third letter, referring to advice given to the Department of Health from a barrister, warns of ‘terrible gaps’ in their response to the disaster.
Written on December 6, 1990, it says there was ‘obviously quite a lot of neglect’ which was ‘inevitable’ when money was tight.
The barrister is believed to be referring to the Department of Health avoiding spending money on creating their own blood products, instead importing them.
A final document reveals how, if the government were taken to court, ‘losing badly’ to victims would cost almost £500million in compensation and legal fees.
Last September, a major public inquiry, expected to last two years, got under way to establish what had happened and why, including whether there had been a Whitehall cover-up of the scandal.
Jason Evans, whose father died in 1993 after being given infected blood, said: ‘It’s high time the Government publicly admitted negligence… we know they’re negligent, it’s now clear that they know they are, and have known for 30 years – it is a scandal through and through.’
Mr Evans, who obtained the records, added: ‘It’s one thing to deny negligence for all these years but to have privately been advised and concluded the opposite almost 30 years ago is outrageous.’
Ken Clarke and the Department of Health declined to comment.
Last September, a major public inquiry, expected to last two years, got under way to establish what had happened and why, including whether there had been a Whitehall cover-up of the scandal (stock image)