Let's hope justice is coming at last for contaminated blood scandal victims - ​Lynn Carey

The UK-wide Infected Blood Inquiry looks likely to highlight widespread failings in a way Scotland’s Penrose Inquiry did not, writes ​​Lynn Carey

The contaminated blood scandal is often referred to as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. Those infected and affected by hepatitis C and/or HIV via blood and blood products, have campaigned tirelessly for answers for decades.

A successful Judicial Review of the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers in 2008 led to the establishment of the Penrose Inquiry by the Scottish Government, to provide answers as to how Scottish patients received contaminated blood and blood products. For the campaigners, it failed.

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Throughout the Penrose Inquiry, those impacted felt their voices and stories were all but ignored. The perception was that victims were not at the heart of the investigation.

Lynn Carey, Associate Solicitor, Thompsons Solicitors ScotlandLynn Carey, Associate Solicitor, Thompsons Solicitors Scotland
Lynn Carey, Associate Solicitor, Thompsons Solicitors Scotland

The final Penrose Inquiry report (2015) contained only one recommendation, that steps should be taken to offer blood tests to anyone in Scotland who had received a blood transfusion before 1991 and who hadn’t already been tested for hepatitis C. This caused widespread, justifiable anger among those infected and their families. Penrose failed to provide core answers to fundamental questions. The infected and affected were left with no answers, no justice.

The Infected Blood Inquiry, a UK-wide Inquiry was announced by then Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2017. It started work in 2018, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, a former High Court Judge.

There was early engagement with the community by the Inquiry Team, including a consultation on the Terms of Reference. By the time the Inquiry’s Preliminary Hearings were held in September 2018, as explained in the oral opening statement on behalf of clients represented by Thompsons, what we had seen to date had given our clients hope and cautious optimism.

Sir Brian was clear from the outset that he would put people at the heart of the process, which became the case throughout the Inquiry.

The Inquiry’s second interim report on 5 April 2023, recommended setting up a compensation scheme. Sir Brian said: “My conclusion is that wrongs were done at an individual, collective and systemic level. I will set out the detail of what happened and why in my full report, but my judgement is that not only do the infections themselves and their consequences merit compensation, but so too do the wrongs done by authority, whose response served to compound people’s suffering.”

When announcing in January 2024 a slight delay in the publication of the Inquiry’s final report until May 2024, it was explained by the Inquiry that further time was needed to issue warning letters (as legally required) in relation to criticisms in the report. Sir Brian stated that “No-one should be in any doubt about the serious nature of the failings over more than six decades that have led to catastrophic loss of life and compounded suffering.”

These comments give a clear indication that very serious criticisms are likely to be levelled against a number of organisations in the Inquiry’s final report, which will be published next week, on 20 May.

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We will be proud to stand by the side of those who have campaigned for so many years when the report is published. Hopefully, it will set out the true extent of harm caused by the state over a number of decades, and highlight the widespread failings on the part of the medical profession and the government after years of denials of wrongdoing – so this never happens again.

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