Saturday, February 09, 2008

Court of Session ruling on Hep C may pave way for tainted blood products inquiry

The recent ruling by Lord MacKay which strikes down the Lord Advocate's decision not to hold an FAI into two victims of the contaminated blood products scandal, is being viewed as a message from the judicary it can and will make life difficult for any Government who may implement judicial reforms ...

Peter Cherbi reports on the Hep C ruling and what it may mean for victims of the contaminated blood products scandal in Scotland :

Court ruling on Hep C inquiry - time for Government to admit responsibility and do the right thing for victims.

For years, local Health Trusts, the NHS, civil servants, local authorities, and Government Ministers have done their utmost to prevent an inquiry into the use of contaminated blood products on the NHS which have caused suffering & death to patients who received blood transfusions of infected blood products - which someone knew about and did nothing about.

Rather than admit responsibility, successive administrations have played with people's lives, destroyed medical files & records, interfered in people's access to justice with willing help from the legal profession itself, and prevaricated victims attempts to get an inquiry and answers into what happened to them at the hands of the health service - all because the same Health Trusts, NHS staff, civil servants, local authorities, and Government Ministers wont admit they were at the very least, negligent, and at the most, knew of events as they occurred and did nothing about it.

However, after long campaigns by victims families, Lord Mackay has overturned a dictatorial 2006 ruling by the Lord Advocate denying Fatal Accident Inquiries into the deaths of two victims of the contaminated blood products scandal, declaring the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini's ruling breached the Human Rights of the victims.

However good the news is there will now be inquiries into the deaths, the fact remains that inquiries into events in Scotland have a less than honest record when it comes to getting to the facts - with remits being changed, argued over just in case some people or vested interests may be threatened with exposure .. etc ..

Isn't it time for a touch of honesty now for all the victims of the contaminated blood products scandal ?

A touch of honesty, in the form of an admission of guilt, negligence, and a fast track system to compensate the victims and provide the answers which people should have been given many years ago.

Such a move isn't impossible, as the Japanese Government have proved, with, after long campaigns also in Japan over similar cases where people have fell ill or died through the use of contaminated blood products, the Government of Prime Minister Fukuda has decided to recognise its responsibility in the Hepatitis C transmission due to the use of the blood products, and offer apologies & compensation to those affected.

So why is this not possible in Scotland ? Indeed, why is this attitude not possible in the UK ?

Why must victims be subject to delays, obstruction, prevarication, and be sent down the route of inquiry after inquiry, when we all know from experience, much of what will be revealed will be decided beforehand, just in case a few heads must role for the loss of life which could have been prevented ...

Such a policy should be applied to all areas of injustice, easy to do, cheaper, shouldn't involve the lawyers raking in gigantic feels like the miners compensation scandal - where the lawyers got more than the victims ... and well, it would add a touch of honesty to Government never seen before ...

Are we up for it in Scotland ? Does our Government have that 'touch of honesty' to go the extra mile and resolve these issues as they should be resolved ?

Here's how the Japanese have reacted to the situation - after campaigns from victims to secure inquiries and a resolution of their suffering, with a report from "Hepatitis" :

Japan Offers Aid to Recipients of HCV Tainted Blood

Lawmakers in Japan have publicly recognized the government's responsibility in Hepatitis C transmission from tainted blood products. While a recently passed bill will offer compensation to those affected, it will be interesting to see if other administrations follow suit.

Hepatitis C bill offering aid, apology clears Diet

Compiled from staff, Kyodo reports

The House of Councilors voted unanimously Friday to enact a law to give uniform relief to people who contracted hepatitis C from tainted blood products.

With the passage of the hepatitis C bill, about 1,000 people, including the 207 hepatitis C plaintiffs who sued the government and drugmakers, will receive an apology and compensation from the government.

In a statement issued following the law's enactment, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said: "We must frankly admit the state's responsibility for causing huge harm to the victims and for failing to prevent the harm from spreading. I express my apologies from my heart."

With the enactment, the plaintiffs plan to conclude a basic agreement Tuesday with the government to pave the way for the pending lawsuits nationwide to be settled out of court.

Watching the Upper House approve the legislation in the chamber, plaintiffs smiled and some wiped away tears. Michiko Yamaguchi, who leads the plaintiffs' group, said, "I feel that the five years of fighting (since the lawsuit was filed in 2002) have at last paid off."

Fukuda plans to meet with the plaintiffs Tuesday.

Stalled negotiations on out-of-court settlements saw a breakthrough after Fukuda announced Dec. 23 his decision as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to seek a lawmaker-sponsored bill to provide blanket relief to the sufferers.

The bill was submitted Monday to the Diet, was passed unanimously Tuesday by the Lower House and was sent to the Upper House for final legislative approval.

Under the law, people who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood products, including fibrinogen, will receive compensation ranging from ¥12 million to ¥40 million per person depending on the severity of the case.

The government will provide around ¥20 billion to set up a fund at the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency to pay the relief. The drugmakers will also be required to offer contributions.
Gist of hepatitis C relief law

The following is the gist of a law enacted Friday to offer blanket relief for people with hepatitis C caused by tainted blood products:

* The government admits responsibility for causing huge harm to victims and failing to prevent the harm from spreading.

* The law will provide relief to those who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood products, such as fibrinogen.

* Victims entitled to relief are required to submit certification as hepatitis C sufferers, such as court rulings.

* Compensation ranging from ¥12 million to ¥40 million per person will be paid depending on the severity of the case and the balance will be paid if the condition worsens within 10 years.

* A fund will be set up to ensure payments, with the government providing the resources.

* The fund will call for drugmakers to provide contributions.

Here are further references from the Foreign Correspondences Club of Japan and The Japan Times respectively :

Fukuda, Kawada & Yamanishi, "Landmark Hepatitis C Settlement"

Fukuda meets, apologizes to hepatitis C victims

Now for the reports on the possibility of inquiries, which may or may not be as revealing as they should be .. we will just have to wait and see .. wait wait wait again for the victims of cover up and injustice ... a national sport for politicians whatever their political party may be ...

Families win long fight for hepatitis C deaths inquiry


FOR the last eight years of her life, Eileen O'Hara was in constant pain – all because a blood transfusion that was meant to save her life went wrong.

The grandmother was one of many innocent victims fatally infected with the debilitating hepatitis C virus by contaminated NHS blood stocks during the 1970s and 1980s.

After a long campaign, her relatives yesterday celebrated a judge's landmark decision that will force Scottish ministers to launch an inquiry into the scandal.

Lord Mackay overturned a 2006 ruling by Scotland's most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, who ruled there should not be fatal accident inquiries into the deaths of Mrs O'Hara, 72, and the Rev David Black, 66, a haemophiliac who died of hepatitis C in 2003. Lord Mackay held that Ms Angiolini's decision had breached their human rights.

It is thought to be the first time a Scottish judge has quashed a decision of the Lord Advocate.

Mrs O'Hara's daughter, Roseleen Kennedy, said: "We knew we couldn't change what had happened. It's really been for us about finding out the truth, and always realising that there's hundreds of others out there that may still have this to go through. We didn't want anyone else to be in this position."

Another daughter, Annette O'Hara, 39, from Bishopbriggs, said: "I'm delighted that at last we get an opportunity to find answers to the questions we've had for many years.

"It's been a struggle. It has been very difficult at times, but luckily we are a close-knit family and we've been able to support each other. It would have been easy to give in, but we just felt that we had to do it for our mother."

Mrs Kennedy, 42, from Scotstoun, Glasgow, described how her mother's illness had gone undiagnosed until 1995, when she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and subsequently hepatitis C. She contracted it during one of two operations on her heart in 1986 and 1991.

"It wasn't just one part that hurt – it was her whole body," she said. "Her stomach became swollen, her liver and spleen enlarged. Later on, she needed a wheelchair whenever she wanted to go out.

"She had always been a very active person. In the final weeks, she was bedridden in hospital."

A summary of Lord Mackay's findings said any investigation "could include the Lord Advocate seeking a fatal accident inquiry before a sheriff or the setting up of a public inquiry by the Scottish ministers".

The previous Labour administration at Holyrood had resisted calls from victims and their families for a public inquiry, but the SNP government has said one will be held. Its remit has yet to be established.

Frank Maguire, of Thompsons Solicitors, has campaigned on the family's behalf for more than three years.

He said that while the inquiry would focus on the deaths of Mr Black and Mrs O'Hara, it would have implications for other sufferers. "There are still people out there who have had transfusions in the 1980s and early 1990s who don't know they have hepatitis C because nothing has really been done about tracing them and they may have never come back into contact with hospitals since then," he said.

Hepatitis C is spread mainly through contact with the blood of a person who is infected. It can lead to liver failure, but it can take years, or even decades, for symptoms to appear.


BRITISH soldiers could face months of anxious waiting for tests to establish whether they were exposed to contaminated blood in Iraq and Afghanistan, it emerged yesterday.

All of the 18 military casualties given transfusions with blood that had not been tested properly have now been informed of the risk. But Derek Twigg, the defence minister, said some had still not had their tests completed because blood samples could not be taken for "some months" after the transfusion. It was revealed last month that seriously injured British troops had been given blood from the US military that had not been properly screened, meaning it could contain infections.

Mr Twigg added: "The MoD fully recognises the distress this will have caused."

Now for the Herald's version - and please note the lack of comment from the Tories, who of course presided over much of the period of the contaminated blood products scandal ... I wonder if they will be trying to fiddle the remit of any inquiry so their members can escape blame - let's hope the SNP don't let them ...

Ruling adds to pressure for hepatitis C inquiry

WILLIAM TINNING February 06 2008

Pressure has mounted on Scottish ministers after a senior judge ruled that authorities acted unlawfully by refusing an official investigation into the deaths of two patients who died after being infected with hepatitis C through NHS blood transfusions.

In an unprecedented move Lord Mackay of Drumadoon yesterday quashed the Lord Advocate's decision not to hold fatal accident inquiries into the deaths of Eileen O'Hara, 72, and the Rev David Black, 66, who both died in 2003.

Lord Mackay's judicial review findings, issued by the Court of Session in Edinburgh, said ministers and Scotland's most senior law officer acted in a manner incompatible with their rights.

Last night the SNP administration was coming under pressure to honour a pre-election pledge to hold a public inquiry into people infected with hepatitis C and HIV from blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

The former Labour-led Scottish Executive had resisted calls for a public inquiry in 2006 from victims and families of some 4000 people in Scotland who were given contaminated blood.

Mrs O'Hara received blood transfusions in 1985 and 1991 and was later diagnosed with hepatitis C.

Mr Black was a haemophiliac who had a liver transplant and received blood transfusions in the 1980s. He died of liver cancer due to hepatitis C.

Yesterday's ruling was welcomed by Mrs O'Hara's family and other campaigners. The judicial review was raised by Roseleen Kennedy, one of Mrs O'Hara's daughters, and Mr Black's widow Jean.

At a press conference in Glasgow, Mrs Kennedy, 42, a schoolteacher from Scotstoun, Glasgow, said: "I am just delighted that at last we got an opportunity to find answers to some of the questions that we have had for many years."

Solicitor-advocate Frank Maguire who campaigned on the families' behalf for more than three years, said the £100,000 cost of the families' legal action would be paid by the Scottish Government.

He said the families now wanted a full judicial inquiry by a Court of Session judge.

Philip Dolan, chairman of the Scottish Forum of the Haemophilia Society, which provided almost £50,000 for the legal fight, described the ruling as "great news".

In his findings, Lord Mackay said both the Lord Advocate and ministers had flouted Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states that "everyone's right to life shall be protected by law".

The law says that when a person dies after hospital treatment, ministers are obliged to have in place a system capable of providing an effective investigation into the death.

Lord Mackay further ruled that the only way such an investigation into the death of Mrs O'Hara or Mr Black could be achieved would be if the authorities were to initiate a public inquiry.

Lord Mackay continued the cases until a further hearing to allow the Lord Advocate and ministers to decide what action they will take after the ruling. No date has been set for the hearing.

Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday: "We will now study the judgment in detail and in discussion with the Lord Advocate will consider its wider implications."

Dr Richard Simpson, Labour's spokesperson on public health, said: "Labour supports the right of individual families to know the exact circumstances that led to the death of their loved ones."

Ross Finnie, Liberal Democrats health spokesman, urged Ms Sturgeon to offer Lord Mackay the Scottish Government's "absolute commitment" to hold an inquiry.

Scottish Conservative Party justice spokesman Bill Aitken said he felt it was inappropriate to comment ahead of further legal and judicial process being completed.

A Crown Office spokesman said the opinion of the Court of Session and Lord Mackay, in particular, had been noted and would be "carefully considered" before any decision was taken.

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