The contaminated blood scandal that infected 30,000 people and killed over 3,000 after exposing them to Hepatitis C or HIV was “no accident”, a groundbreaking 2,527-page report has concluded.

On what Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called “a day of shame for the British state”, Sir Brian Langstaff, chair of the infected blood inquiry, said in his speech addressing the findings of the five-year report that the government and NHS cover-up “compounded the agony” felt by victims and their families over the last 40 years. 

Langstaff, speaking at the Central Hall in Westminster, said: “People put their faith in doctors and in the government to keep them safe and their trust was betrayed. Here the NHS and successive governments compounded the agony by refusing to accept that wrong had been done. The government repeatedly maintained that people received the best available treatment and that testing of blood donations began as soon as the technology was available. Both claims were untrue.”

Widely labelled as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, between 1970 and 1991 over 30,000 people were infected with Hepatitis C or HIV through contaminated blood products. Hemophiliacs received Factor VIII concentrates which came from America and were disproportionately taken from prison inmates who carried a higher risk of having Hepatitis C or HIV. Many others received blood transfusions after operations or childbirth. 

Langstaff’s report also revealed that there wasn’t adequate blood screening or due care given to who was donating the blood. Medical records disappeared and children were used as guinea pigs for risky treatment, such as children with hemophilia at Treloar’s Boarding School for children with physical disabilities. The report says: “Viewing the response of the NHS and of government overall, the answer to the question ‘Was there a cover-up?’ is that there has been. Not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications. In this way, there has been a hiding of much of the truth.”

Ben, 45, from Norwich whose mother contracted Hepatitis C in a blood transfusion before he was born, told Reaction: “Today’s report has confirmed for us what we already knew. The community has known that there was a cover-up for years. Trying to access your records as someone who has Hep C or HIV… they’ve all been destroyed. 

Ben did not contract Hepatitis C; there is about a 5 per cent chance of infected mothers passing it on to their babies. However, his mother passed away in 2016 after struggling with Hepatitis C for almost 50 years. When asked about what today means for the victims and their families, Ben said: “The most beautiful thing about today is that the country is now aware of the same things we’ve been aware of for decades. We’ve been called crackpots and conspiracy theorists all these years.” 

Brandon Preston, 44, told Reaction about his father who contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion after complications from a leg amputation operation. Brandon’s father was infected in the 1980s and passed away from the disease in 1996. He was told his liver failure was due to him being an alcoholic and not Hepatitis C, but Brandon maintains his father was not an alcoholic.

Brandon said: “A lot of people deserve closure, my mum deserves it and so do all the families and victims of this scandal. [The report] is a long document so it needs to be gone through thoroughly. We’re hoping that we’ll get some sort of understanding about what happened, what went wrong and what the government is going to do to make sure it never happens again.”

Reaction also spoke to Robert, 65, from South London who was given Factor VIII during an operation to remove a wisdom tooth in the early 1980s. He said the operation was unnecessary and claimed that the NHS had been trialling the experimental and dangerous blood product on him without his consent. 

The Prime Minister today issued an unequivocal apology for the institutional refusal to respond to these failures. He admitted that the victims died without seeing anyone held to account and thanked Theresa May for launching the inquiry when she was Prime Minister. Keir Starmer, Labour leader, also apologised on behalf of his party. 

Langstaff has recommended that compensation is paid immediately and some speculate that it could be in the region of £20 billion. The £130 million inquiry also recommended other steps to move toward a “patient safety culture”, where “near misses” should be reported and a statutory duty of candour should be instated for all healthcare leaders. 

As Langstaff also said today, this scandal is not over. There are still weekly deaths of those infected and the pain felt by the families of victims does not disappear just because a report has been published. Many of the leading doctors who could have been tried for manslaughter due to gross negligence have passed away.  

When considered alongside the recent Horizon Post Office fiasco, the Windrush scandal, the problems over the Grenfell cladding and the Cass Review, all examples of either gross negligence or huge cover-ups by those in power to save their own skin, the legitimacy of institutions in Britain has taken a battering. It will take transparency and time to regain the public’s trust. As yet, there has been no formal apology from NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard. Whitehall sources say Pritchard is expected to make her own apology. The victims should expect nothing less. And soon. 

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