Contaminated Blood Inquiry Gets Underway: FAQs

Peter Russell

September 25, 2018

The public inquiry into the UK's contaminated blood scandal would "hold people to account" and "express its views at the end without fear or favour", its Chair Sir Brian Langstaff has pledged.

The inquiry will investigate how thousands of NHS patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis from contaminated blood products at the end of the last century and whether the outcome was subsequently covered-up.

The first day of preliminary hearings at Church House, Westminster, on Monday, heard first-hand accounts from people who were directly affected and from family members of those who had died.

Read our FAQs.

Origins of the Contaminated Blood Scandal

During the 1970s, bleeds caused by haemophilia and other bleeding disorders began to be treated with a new product called 'factor concentrate' to replace a missing protein, such as factor VIII and factor IX, that enables blood to clot.

Factor concentrates were produced using a process that pooled human blood plasma from tens of thousands of donors, concentrating it to extract the required factor.

The risk of infection increased for UK patients because of a shortage of home-produced factor concentrate. As a result, supplies were sourced from abroad, including from the US, where high-risk paid donors were used, including drug addicts and prison inmates.
 

What Was the Result?

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, over 4,500 people in the UK with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, after being given contaminated blood products during NHS treatment. 

Over 2000 people have since died.

Eventually, products were heat-treated to destroy dangerous viruses. In the late 1990s, synthetic clotting factors were in widespread use that eliminated the risks from viruses and other contaminants.
 

Have There Been Previous Inquiries?

An independent inquiry was held under Lord Archer of Sandwell and concluded that the Government had been slow to act. However, it lacked the status needed to compel witnesses to give evidence or force disclosure of documents.

In 2008 the Scottish Government set up a public inquiry under Lord Penrose but campaigners branded it a "whitewash" for its shortage of recommendations and failure to apportion blame.

A UK-wide public inquiry was announced by the Government in July 2017.
 

What Is the Inquiry's Remit?

The Inquiry will examine why men, women and children in the UK were given infected blood and/or infected blood products. It will also explore the impact on their families.

It will investigate how the authorities, including the Government, responded, and issues including patient consent to treatment, and the nature of any support provided to patients following infection.

The inquiry will also investigate whether there was a cover-up.
 

How Will the Inquiry Work?

Public inquiries are major investigations and can compel testimony and require the release of other forms of evidence.

The Chair has promised to "put people at the heart" of the inquiry, and the first few months will be dedicated to witnesses affected by contaminated blood products.

The Chair is appointing expert groups to advise him, covering the fields of haematology, transfusion medicine, hepatology, and virology, and also medical ethics, public health and administration, psychosocial impact, and statistics.

Although the inquiry has opened in London, future sessions will also take place in Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, and in the north of England, probably in Leeds.

The inquiry is expected to take up to 3 years to complete its work.
 

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