In two weeks’ time Sir Brian Langstaff will take up his post as chair of the public inquiry into contaminated blood and contaminated blood products. Today, World Haemophilia Day, is the perfect occasion to remind Langstaff what the thousands of haemophiliac victims need from this inquiry if they are to get justice.
In the 1970s and 1980s more than 4,600 haemophiliacs contracted HIV or hepatitis C after being infected by contaminated blood-clotting products. Much of the blood had been imported on the cheap from US prisons, and taken from high-risk donors (sex workers, drug addicts and alcoholics) who were paid for their blood. As early as 1975, the TV programme World in Action exposed the fact that the NHS was buying this blood and that it had led to a hepatitis epidemic among haemophiliacs. This was before HIV and Aids had been diagnosed.
That year, David Owen, the then Labour health secretary, promised Britain would become self-sufficient in blood products to ensure vulnerable patients were put at minimal risk. But this never happened. By the mid-80s, the government was still buying the deadly blood from Arkansas prisons, despite the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration had banned its sale in America in 1983.