U.K.’s infected blood scandal: A report of betrayal and systemic failure

Sir Brian Langstaff

29th May 2024 – (London) In an emotionally charged event at Westminster’s Central Hall, Sir Brian Langstaff, the former High Court judge who chaired the public inquiry into the UK’s infected blood scandal, delivered a long-awaited report to over a thousand victims and their families. The scandal, which saw approximately 30,000 people infected with HIV or Hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1990s, was described by Sir Brian as a “disaster that was not an accident.”

During the event, Sir Brian, whose career has been marked by a dedication to clinical negligence and personal injury law, received a standing ovation as he declared the massive betrayal of trust that patients had placed in their healthcare providers and the government. His report highlighted the catastrophic failures of successive governments and the NHS to prioritise patient safety, leading to about 3,000 deaths.

Sir Brian emphasized the severity of the deception involved, pointing out that some documents were deliberately destroyed by Department of Health workers in a “pervasive cover-up.” He criticised the defensive and misleading responses that compounded the victims’ suffering over decades.

The inquiry, which Sir Brian led after retiring from his judicial roles to focus solely on this monumental task, unveiled disturbing details of how blood products known to be unsafe were used extensively, particularly affecting haemophiliacs. It was revealed that these products often came from high-risk groups in the US, including prisoners and drug addicts, and were not adequately tested for viruses until much later—HIV testing began in 1986 and Hepatitis C in 1991.

The report was damning in its breadth and depth, citing instances where blood transfusions were unnecessarily administered and where children at institutions like Treloar’s School were treated as “research objects.” At Alder Hey Hospital, the use of blood products in the 1980s was described as “utterly inappropriate.”

In his recommendations, Sir Brian called for immediate action, proposing a compensation scheme, the establishment of memorials, and urgent nationwide Hepatitis C testing for anyone who had received a blood transfusion before 1996. These steps are aimed at addressing the historical injustices and providing some measure of relief to the victims and their families.

The response from political leaders was swift. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued an unequivocal apology, acknowledging the government’s role in the scandal and the need for prompt action to support the victims. The expected compensation scheme, which could cost around £10 billion, is a testament to the scale of the tragedy and the government’s commitment to rectification.

Victims and advocates, who have long felt gaslighted by authorities, reacted to the report with a mix of vindication and sorrow. The detailed account by Sir Brian, bolstered by their harrowing testimonials, paints a grim picture of neglect and malfeasance. Advocates like Andy Evans from the Tainted Blood campaign expressed a deep-seated disappointment in the political figures involved, many of whom, the report suggests, should bear significant blame for the distress caused.