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Explained: The Blood Scandal That Infected 30,000 And Killed 3,000 People In UK

The UK public inquiry into the infected blood scandal will publish its final report on Monday to uncover what caused the deaths of over 3,000 people. This scandal, considered the deadliest to hit Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) since its start in 1948, involved thousands of people contracting HIV or hepatitis from contaminated blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s, killing over 3,000 people. 

After almost 6 years of investigation, the report will shed light on the full extent of the tragedy and bring closure to those affected, reported ABC news.

UK’s blood scandal – Explained

In the 1970s and 1980s, many people needing blood transfusions were exposed to contaminated blood tainted with hepatitis and HIV. Haemophiliacs, who needed treatment to help blood clotting, were particularly affected by a new treatment called Factor VIII. The UK’s NHS started using Factor VIII in the early 1970s, believing it to be a groundbreaking treatment, but it later led to widespread infections.

Factor VIII was produced by combining plasma from thousands of donations, meaning that if even one donor was infected, the entire batch could be compromised. 

As demand for Factor VIII grew, the UK had to import it from the US. However, a significant portion of the plasma used in the US came from high-risk donors, including prisoners and drug users, who were paid to donate blood. This significantly increased the risk of contamination. 

The inquiry revealed that over 30,000 people were infected with diseases like hepatitis and HIV due to contaminated blood products involving Factor VIII. 

Later in the mid-1970s, it became clear that hemophiliacs treated with Factor VIII were more likely to get hepatitis. The WHO (World Health Organization) warned in 1953 about the risks of mixing plasma products, advising countries to not import plasma.

In the early 1980s, people with haemophilia and those who received blood transfusions started to get AIDS. AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, mainly among gay men. Even though HIV was not recognised as the cause of AIDS until 1983, warnings had been given to the UK government in the previous year that the virus could be spread through blood products. 

However, they didn’t take action, and patients were not warned about the risks. As a result, around 3000 people lost their lives, reported ABC. 

Were victims compensated?

In the late 1980s, victims and their families sought compensation claiming medical negligence. A charity was set up in the early 1990s to offer one-time support payments to those with HIV. However, victims could get the money only if they agreed to waive their right to sue the Department of Health. This waiver also barred them from seeking compensation for hepatitis, despite a later diagnosis of hepatitis C. 

Now, the inquiry is expected to show that key lessons from the 1940s were ignored. Advocates say authorities knew heat could kill hepatitis in plasma products like Albumin but failed to make Factor VIII safe before using it. Financial concerns seemed to prevent safety measures, and the NHS kept using non-heated Factor VIII until 1985.

What to expect from the report

The report is expected to blame pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals, civil servants, and politicians for their roles in the tragedy. 

The publication of this all-important report is likely to pave the way for compensation to victims and their families. Campaigners, who lost family, played a big role in getting this scandal noticed. Jason Evans, whose father died in 1993 after getting HIV and hepatitis from infected blood plasma, helped push for an inquiry. He hopes the report will finally bring some closure to those affected.