This article appeared in The Times Newspaper on 9th October 2018
The infected Blood Inquiry formally opens. Another inquiry that formally investigations a medical situation that was completely out of control for far too many years before any investigation was undertaken. As a consequence vulnerable individuals have suffered; many have died and their families have endured grief.
It is hard to comprehend how this catastrophe was not prevented, given that in 1968 HIV had first arrived in the USA. Historically blood transfusions were first carried out from around 1928 and by 1947 AOB blood typing and syphilis testing was carried out, and by 1971 Hepatitis B testing was carried out. However, in the 1970’s did the medical profession know that HIV was transmitted by body fluids such as blood and that these fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damages tissue or be directly injected into the blood stream from a needle or syringe?
It is difficult to comprehend how the UK government got away with purchasing cheap blood from the USA, especially given that from 1972 the American Red Cross were calling for a national blood policy supporting standardized practices in relation to blood transfusions, which the policy was set up by the US federal government in 1974 and this put an end to paid donations. So why were the UK continuing to purchase cheap blood sourced from Arkansas prisons even when the Americans had ceased doing so?
In 1983, when the UK’s Department of Health and Social Security was officially advised that blood products from the USA should be withdrawn until the risk of HIV was clarified, that advice was ignored. Why and how did this happen?
The USA issued the first warning in 1983 in respect to AIDs and carried on until 1985 when the UK licensed the first test to detect the antibody and the American Red Cross Blood Services begin to test donated blood. Yet were British patients still receiving infected blood during this two year period?
It was not until 1991 that routine screening of blood products began. By then it was far too late for those who had received transfusions in the hope that they would get better, when many only got worse or even died.
Those patients (and relatives of those who have died) who received blood from 1974; and then latterly from 1983 should have every right to pursue claims for negligent medical care. Criminal proceedings and civil proceedings relating to negligent medical care are likely, but the main challenge will be that for civil claims the negligence claim must be pursued three years from the date of the negligent medical treatment or three years from the date of death if the death arises as a consequence of negligence. There are exceptions for those who were minors at the time of the injury but even so the courts can be draconian when it comes to waiving the three year deadline for pursuing such claims.
This is little comfort for those infected or the relatives of those who have died of HIV/AIDS as they have had to deal with the stigma of the virus and society’s prejudice against it in circumstances completely out of their control.
The government must and should provide answers and explain exactly why the victims were placed in this compromising and dangerous position from the outset. If cost was the overriding factor, then money saved at the time are likely to be outweighed by any weighty legislative action on this issue.
If it was merely an attempt to save money by buying cheap blood products then someone is likely to have to pay. Life, ultimately, is not cheap.
At Osbornes Law we care about how you are treated both by medical professionals at your GP surgery or at hospital and also under the care of private providers of health services. If you think that the care you or a loved one has received fell below the standards expected of a reasonably competent professional, then please do not hesitate to contact Partner and specialist medical negligence lawyer Stephanie Prior on 020 7681 8671. You can also fill out an online enquiry form here.