Saturday, February 28, 2009

Scottish inquiry into the use of contaminated blood products needs wider remit

The inquiry into the use of infected blood products in Scotland, to be chaired by Lord Penrose, must have a wider remit, according to campaigners.

Let’s hope the campaigners and victims are listed to for once ..

The Herald reports :

Scope of inquiry into blood scandal in Scotland ‘must be widened’

MARIANNE TAYLOR February 24 2009

Campaigners said yesterday that patients and their families may never find out why contaminated blood products were given to thousands of haemophiliacs and others unless the scope of a Scottish Government inquiry into the scandal is widened.

A separate inquiry in England yesterday condemned the "procrastination" that led to patients, including hundreds of Scots, becoming infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after receiving infected blood transfusions during the 1970s and 1980s.

The privately funded inquiry, led by Labour peer Lord Archer of Sandwell, described the infection of so many people as a "horrific human tragedy", and concluded that commercial interests had taken precedence over public health concerns.

The findings outlined how the NHS bought "bad blood" products from US suppliers who used what became known as "skid row" donors, such as prison inmates, who were more likely to be HIV positive or have Hepatitis C.

However, some key witnesses, including officials from the Department of Health, were not compelled to give evidence or supply documents as part of the investigation, while the UK Government is under no obligation to act upon its findings.

In light of this, lawyers and patients groups north of the border have questioned its effectiveness and warned that similar limitations placed on the Scottish inquiry announced last year by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon could lead to accusations of a cover-up. That inquiry is being led by judge Lord Penrose.

Solicitor-advocate Frank Maguire, of Thompsons Solicitors, which represents the families of the two victims whose deaths from infected NHS blood supplies sparked the Scottish inquiry, said: "Not one single official from the Department of Health agreed to give evidence to the Archer inquiry and that is a glaring omission which undermines the credibility of its findings.

"How can anyone get to the truth without speaking to the officials and ministers who made the key decisions at the time?

"The danger for Scotland is that the Penrose inquiry will find itself in the same position with absolutely no legal powers to force officials or Westminster government ministers to give evidence.

"This is exactly the sort of conduct that leads to talk of a cover-up."

UK-wide, 4670 patients were infected with Hepatitis C and 1243 of those patients were also infected with HIV. More than 2000 of these victims have already died, while others are still receiving treatment for the two life-threatening conditions.

Evidence in Scotland suggests that every haemophiliac over the age of 21, around 365 patients, is likely to have Hepatitis C, while some also have HIV. Some patients who did not know they had the conditions then passed it to their partners, who later died.

Some victims have already received payments of £20,000 from a fund set up by both Holyrood and Westminster, and campaigners have called for more compensation.

However Philip Dolan, chairman of the Scottish Haemophiliacs Forum, said revealing the truth should be the main aim of any inquiry. He said: "We need a full public inquiry that uncovers every detail of this scandal. We also need to hear directly from the health professionals and officials who made the key decisions.

"That is the only way we will ever fully understand what happened, and why."

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