Blood infections Inquiry to be held as Executive challenged to clean up the injustices of the past
In what has been a great injustice against patients who became infected with hepatitis and HIV, due to negligence & secret experimentation on those victims by Doctors who deliberately withheld informing patients of their predicament, the new Scottish Executive has agreed to hold an inquiry into the blood infection scandal.
It's a pity that Scotland has had to wait for a change in the Executive and also the start of the Inquiry in England on UK wide blood infections - organised and paid for by the families of victims of this scandal ... what a terrible injustice indeed, further compounded by both the Westminster & Scottish Governments refusing to do anything for so long, leaving it to the victims and their families to come forward with an Inquiry. Is this the stuff of justice and transparency we should expect from Government ? I hope not.
I hope the Inquiry also looks at why the last two Scottish Executives from 1999, and the Scottish Office Ministers before them, spent the previous 25 years dodging, prevaricating, and either helping or turning a blind eye to the destruction of evidence by some of those concerned in the scandal, including local Health Trusts and NHS Departments.
We shouldn't be having any more of that kind of conduct please, and since the SNP have been shouting about these kinds of injustices for all these years, its time to take responsibility for the past, rather than prolong the suffering of these innocent victims of a most heinous medical malpractice crime.
I hope the Scottish inquiry will deal with the issues properly, without restriction and without giving those in the professions undeserved immunity which we have seen many times in inquiries in Scotland in the past.
The victims of this terrible injustice must be given their right to be heard plainly, in public, to find out exactly what happened, who was responsible, why it happened, and of course, properly compensate those who have suffered in this disgraceful scandal, and ensure this doesn't happen again.
This should be the start of a clean up of the many sins of the past, which every member of the new SNP Executive know full well exist, and require to be addressed. We have our new Government, and expectations are high. Deliver on the issues you have always talked about, and known about for so many years Mr Salmond, and I'm sure Scotland, our country, and people will appreciate it
Following links from the Scotsman and BBC News :
Ministers agree to inquiry into blood contamination
GERRI PEEV POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
THE Scottish Executive has agreed to hold a public inquiry into how patients were given blood product contaminated with fatal viruses and kept in the dark about their illnesses.
The SNP administration said a public inquiry was "the best way forward" to get to the bottom of how Scottish patients became infected with hepatitis and HIV.
An independent inquiry is being held in England by Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former solicitor-general, but it has no power to subpoena witnesses and its findings will not be binding on ministers or the NHS.
Last night, a spokesman for the Holyrood government confirmed to The Scotsman that it would back a public inquiry with legal status, which would look at practices of doctors in Scotland. The decision comes after 25 years of campaigning by victims.
A spokesman said: "The Scottish government believes in a more accountable health service and a public inquiry in Scotland to find out why people were infected with hepatitis through NHS treatment is the best way forward. Clearly, we will wish to assess the findings of the Archer inquiry before deciding exactly when and how to proceed."
One of the most tireless campaigners for an inquiry has been Robert Mackie, 57, who with his wife Alice has painstakingly gathered evidence about what doctors knew of the risks of HIV and hepatitis for haemophilia patients. The Executive's decision comes after Mr Mackie's evidence to an independent inquiry in London was highlighted in yesterday's Scotsman.
Thousands of people with haemophilia and many others who had one-off blood transfusions were infected with HIV and hepatitis C from batches of contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s. Mr Mackie was a haemophilia patient at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI) when he contracted HIV in 1984 from an infected batch of the Factor VIII treatment. He told the Archer inquiry that the director of the haemophilia centre at the ERI, Dr Robert Ludlam, did not tell him about his condition or that he had been used for research for three years.
Successive calls for an inquiry in Scotland since the Holyrood parliament opened in 1999 were dismissed by previous administrations.
Mr Mackie said:
"This is very good news. It's some time overdue. The evidence that's available now about what doctors and ministers knew is not in question. We hope the remit of the inquiry will fully answer our questions and ensure this never happens again."
Philip Dolan, chairman of the Scottish Haemophilia Forum, said what campaigners wanted was an explanation rather than scalps of doctors or ministers.
"We need to try and get answers to why this happened and try and get some sort of closure to avoid this happening in the future," he said. "Too many people I knew died before they should have."
He welcomed the Executive's decision, however: "At least the new Executive has given recognition to the plight of these people who have been infected."
Bruce Norval, of Fortrose, near Inverness, who contracted hepatitis C when being treated for haemophilia, said it made sense for the Executive to wait for the Archer inquiry. He continued: "I want to see haematologists have the courage to stand up and answer the questions that we have been asking them for 25 years."
In April last year, the Scottish Parliament's health committee voted in favour of a public inquiry. But in June, Andy Kerr, then health minister, dismissed the call. He continued to refuse the call for an inquiry in February this year after Lord Archer's inquiry was announced, saying there would be "no further practical lessons" to be learned from an inquiry set up by the government.
Attempts to bring criminal charges were dismissed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 2004.
Scotland's high incidence of hepatitis C means the risks historically have been higher. For three decades up to the 1980s, blood donations were taken from Scottish prisoners, regarded as a high-risk group. And it took two years longer for Scotland to apply heat treatment to blood products than in the rest of the UK.
Families are also awaiting the outcome of a court case into whether the Lord Advocate and health minister acted lawfully in dismissing previous calls for a public inquiry.
The timescale of the Scottish inquiry is not known, but its remit will depend partly on the findings of the Archer inquiry, which will last another three months.
Frank Maguire, a solicitor advocate and senior partner at Thompsons Solicitors, who represents some of the victims and their relatives spearheading the court action, said: "The victims and their families will be so happy. We have had at least 660 deaths in the NHS as a result of this. It begs the question: why did ministers block all earlier attempts for an inquiry?"
'Used as HIV guinea pigs but no-one even told us we had been infected'
GERRI PEEV POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
PATIENTS of a leading haemophilia consultant were used for early research into HIV and AIDS without being told they had the condition, it was claimed yesterday.
The UK's first independent inquiry into how blood product contaminated with HIV and hepatitis was given to haemophiliacs heard patients had been used for years in a study without knowing about the research or that they even had HIV.
Robert Mackie, a haemophiliac, said he contracted HIV in 1984 but was not told of his condition by his consultant, Professor Christopher Ludlam, until 1987.
The 57-year-old said he and others had been used as part of an experiment and exposed to a virulent strain of HIV.
He accused the consultants involved of "murder" in an emotional evidence session before Lord Archer of Sandwell.
He said: "In the Spring of 1983 they took the decision not to inform them of their HIV status, but to keep an eye on their wives and spouses to see if they became infected. I find that murder of the first degree.
"I believe non-consensual research was conducted by doctors of haemophilia in this country. We were all used as lab rats. There is no other way I can put it - we were all just guinea pigs," he said.
In evidence, some of which was read by his wife, Alice, when he became too weak, Mr Mackie said 16 haemophiliacs had become infected from one batch of blood and Prof Ludlam failed to inform patients of the risk. "Two uncles, one cousin and many haemophiliac friends have all died from AIDS from this one infected batch at a time when their infection could have and should have been avoided," he said.
Now his wife had to watch him suffer the same fate, he said.
Mr Mackie said a series of articles for medical journals and research papers showed how Prof Ludlam, professor of haematology and coagulation medicine, had used the Edinburgh group for research into AIDS, which was only beginning to come into the public spotlight in the early 1980s.
He and other patients were part of a study from March 1983, but he claimed they were tested for up to 15 years before being informed. Citing research papers, he said it was "totally outrageous" a doctor could carry out non-consensual research on patients and not be held to account. He went on: "His research also showed that his Edinburgh haemophilia cohort were infected with an unusually virulent strain of HIV - perhaps this is also a reason why we were kept in the dark about the events which were taking place at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh from March 1983."
He said an exchange between his consultant and an American doctor "appears to suggest my consultant was fully aware of the value to scientific endeavour of his Edinburgh patients and that I, along with others, were of value to him".
The patients had been given a batch of infected Factor VIII blood product. He had continually asked if there were any risks from Factor VIII but was told there was nothing to worry about. In 1987, he was told he had been infected with HIV for nearly four years, a delay that he said "put my young wife, family and friends at risk".
"We have since discovered that my consultant was indeed aware of the risk to haemophiliacs from AIDS from early 1983 and had he informed me of the risks, my infection would have been avoided as I would have refused any kind of blood or blood product treatment."
Mr Mackie said a letter from Prof Ludlam showed he appeared to be "offering up" him and other Royal Infirmary patients as a candidate group for research.
Dr Robert Gordon, of the National Institute of Health, had put out an appeal in the Lancet medical journal in 1983, calling for "similarly treated haemophiliacs in a geographical area to which AIDS has not yet been introduced".
It went on: "The resolution of this question by a timely investigation in some country where cases of AIDS have not yet been reported would be an immense help to public health workers worldwide."
In a medical newsletter in 1990, Prof Ludlam described a unique group of patients in Scotland that had formed the basis of several years of important research he had published on AIDS.
Prof Ludlam could not be reached for comment last night. NHS Lothian said it did not want to comment. Bruce Norval, from Fortrose, who was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1990, also gave evidence.
He told The Scotsman: "I have campaigned on this issue for years and I now just want a final response so I can get on with what is left of my life."
Inquiry 20 years after 4,500 given contaminated blood
ABOUT 4,500 haemophilia patients were thought to be infected with contaminated blood 20 years ago.
So far, almost 2,000 haemophiliacs exposed to fatal viruses in contaminated blood or blood products have died and many more are terminally ill.
After years of campaigning, the victims and their relatives have been given the chance to hold an independent inquiry.
The hearings began last month amid claims on the BBC's Newsnight programme that Britain's doctors ignored warnings about using haemophiliacs for testing new blood products.
Successive UK governments have refused to conduct a public inquiry in to the events.
The privately funded inquiry is being chaired by Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former solicitor-general, and has heavyweight backing.
The Haemophilia Society is now calling for the government to make available to the inquiry documents that cover HIV infection since 1985.
Haemophilia is a disorder, usually inherited, in which the blood does not clot properly due to low levels of clotting factors. People with the condition bruise easily and can have spontaneous internal bleeding.
In the 1970s, a new method of producing clotting factors was discovered, for which plasma donations from thousands of donors were pulled together. If any of the sources had a blood-borne virus, the whole batch would be contaminated.
Some blood products during this time came from American suppliers who paid what were revealed as prisoners or "skid row" donors for their blood - people more likely to be infected with HIV and hepatitis C, according to the Haemophilia Society.
'Advisors ignored blood HIV risk'
By Susan Watts and Mags Gavan
More evidence suggests UK health advisors ignored warnings which could have prevented haemophilia patients being given contaminated blood.
The Guardian newspaper points to minutes of a Committee on Safety of Medicines meeting held on July 13 1983.
The minutes document that the CSM knew patients who repeatedly receive blood products appeared to be at risk, but ruled against a ban.
In April, BBC's Newsnight programme reported similar evidence from 1983.
Newsnight obtained a letter from the head of Britain's public health surveillance centre warning the Department of Health about the risk of Aids from the blood clotting product Factor 8, after Britain's first case in Cardiff, and calling for all US imports to be banned.
In the 1970s and 1980s, 4,500 UK haemophilia patients were exposed to lethal viruses in blood products.
Two thousand have since died of either Hepatitis C or HIV.
It is generally accepted that many people with haemophilia became infected from supplies of the clotting agent Factor 8 from abroad.
Unbeknown to them at the time, much of the plasma used to make Factor 8 came from donors like prison inmates in the US.
These prisoners were allowed to sell their blood even though there were questions over their health.
Successive governments have said politicians, civil servants and doctors simply did not know enough about the dangers of Factor 8 concentrates to stop using them in time.
But the CSM minutes obtained by The Guardian reveal: "The possibility was considered of withdrawing US preparations from the UK.
"It was concluded that it is not at present feasible on grounds of supply.
"Moreover, the perceived level of risk does not at present justify serious consideration of such a solution."
Dr Joseph Smith (now Sir Joseph), who had chaired the CSM meeting in 1983, said it was a "great tragedy" that people contracted blood-borne diseases from contaminated materials but said the committee's conclusions were based on the best available evidence at the time.
A spokesman for the Department of Health added: "We have great sympathy for those who were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV and understand why they want to know how it happened and why it could not have been prevented.
"However, the government of the day acted in good faith, relying on the information available at the time.
"We have been open and transparent on this issue, ensuring that as much relevant information is in the public domain as possible, with numerous documents having been released under the Freedom of Information Act."
A private inquiry, organised by families affected by HIV-contaminated blood, is ongoing.