Monday, January 24

Infected blood scandal: government knew about contaminated plasma “long before admitting it” | Tainted blood scandal

One minister privately expressed concern that AIDS was transmitted through contaminated blood products, while the government publicly insisted there was “no conclusive evidence,” recently discovered documents from 1983 show.

Among the victims of the tainted blood scandal, which is the subject of a public investigation, were 1,240 British hemophilia patients most of whom have since died. They became infected with HIV in the 1980s, through an untreated blood product, known as Factor VIII.

In 1983, Ken Clarke, then Minister of Health, denied that Factor VIII posed a threat. In one case, on November 14, 1983, he told parliament: “There is no conclusive evidence that AIDS is transmitted by blood products.”

However, documents discovered in the national archives by Jason Evans, whose father passed away after receiving contaminated blood and who founded the Factor 8 campaign, paint a contrasting picture.

In a letter dated May 4, 1983, Hugh Rossi, then a minister in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), told a constituent: “It is an extremely worrying situation, particularly when I read in the weekend press that the disease is now transmitted by blood plasma that has been imported from the United States. “

HIV screening for all donated blood in the UK did not begin until October 14, 1985.

Rossi’s letter was deemed damaging enough that the government tried to prevent its publication in 1990 during legal action over the scandal, at which time Clarke was secretary of health.

In another letter uncovered by Evans, dated March 22, 1990, a Health Department official wrote to government attorneys saying he wanted to withhold Rossi’s letter, despite admitting that the legal basis for doing so was “questionable.”

He explained: “The problem with this letter is that the minister seems to be saying, or reporting from what he has read in the press, that AIDS was being transmitted by blood plasma at a time when statements were being made that there were no conclusions. conclusive. evidence that this was so. “

The official also expressed his desire to retain a 1978 document because it referred to “the singular lack of care” that the health department had given to the British blood products laboratory.

Evans, who is testifying in the infected blood investigation on June 11, said: “These documents show that the government knew that AIDS was transmitted through factor VIII long before they admitted it and years before they did anything. about. This letter proves once and for all that the ministers were well aware of the dangers.

“I think Ken Clarke has serious questions to answer in the investigation. Not having the benefit of hindsight, Clarke was selling false information for months when serious risks were evident in his department. Let’s not forget that in the 1980s, without treatment, AIDS was a guaranteed death sentence.

“From the data we have, it is reasonable to say that if untreated Factor VIII had been withdrawn from use in May 1983 or earlier, hundreds of lives would have been saved. My father would probably still be alive today. ‘

Des Collins, a senior partner at Collins Solicitors, which represents more than 1,400 families infected and affected by the tainted blood scandal, described Rossi’s letter as a “classic smoking gun.” He added: “We have always suspected that there was a government cover-up, but this adds credibility to that argument and strengthens our quest to blame those who did not do the right thing so many years ago.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Welfare declined to comment directly on the documents, but said it was “committed to being open and transparent with the investigation.”

Clarke said: “In 1983, I was a minister in DHSS, but blood products were not one of my responsibilities. Since the responsible minister was in the Lords, he sometimes answered written questions in the Commons. I always used the words used to describe the clinical advice of the department doctors that “there was no conclusive evidence” and so on.

“I have never seen the previous document that appears to be the opinion of a former minister. I had never seen the 1990 documents before and was never told about these apparent discussions at the official level at the time. “

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