May orders new inquiry into blood contamination scandal

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a new inquiry into how contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in the deaths of at least 2,400 people and infected thousands more, an episode that members of Parliament have called "one of the worst peacetime disasters in Britain's history".

Health minister Philip Dunne told Parliament on Tuesday the government would set up an independent public inquiry aimed at getting to the truth of what happened when patients, many of them haemophiliacs, received blood products infected with HIV or hepatitis C, supplied by the taxpayer-funded National Health Service. It was not immediately clear what form the inquiry, which comes after decades of campaigning by victims and their families for justice, would take.

Ms Diana Johnson, a Labour member of Parliament who has led the cross-party call for an inquiry, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the blood contamination scandal was a gross injustice, calling it a "cover-up" on an "industrial scale" that extended to the highest levels of the government.

Haemophilia, an inherited disorder that prevents blood from clotting properly, is usually controlled with blood plasma products that encourage clotting. But in the 1970s and 1980s, screening procedures were insufficient.

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The inquiry comes after leaders of all the main political parties wrote a letter this month to Mrs May demanding a full investigation amid longstanding concerns.

The letter alluded to accusations that Department of Health officials destroyed documents to hide what had happened and also said that contaminated blood was "not removed from the blood supply, once the dangers became known". Also under scrutiny will be how the infected blood products entered Britain and who was responsible.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the National Health Service imported commercial blood products from the United States, including from donors in the US prison system. Some, it later emerged, had HIV and hepatitis C.

There have been two previous inquiries, but lawmakers said on Tuesday that a new inquest was needed because the previous ones had neither gone far enough nor delivered justice to the victims.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'May orders new inquiry into blood contamination scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe