Victims of the infected blood scandal could each receive around £2 million compensation, the government has announced.

Following an inquiry into what has been called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, surviving victims, as well as family members of those originally affected, finally have vindication five decades after the scandal first began.

In his final report, inquiry chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, said the scandal ‘was not a terrible accident, but a horrifying disaster that could largely, though not entirely, have been avoided.’

There was a catalogue of failures. Not once was patient safety at the forefront. Doctors had known about the risks since 1948 but continued with risky medical practice. Patients were not told about the risks or alternative treatment. Children were used as guinea pigs without parental consent. Patients weren’t told they were HIV or Hepatitis C positive and so unknowingly infected others.

As the impact of the scandal started to come to light, the NHS was found to have ‘hid the truth’. Key documents went missing or were destroyed. It was a mass cover up of bad practice.

As medical negligence solicitors, we know all too well about the consequences of the NHS’ ‘institutional defensiveness’ that Sir Langstaff describes in his report. There’s the unwritten motto of deny, delay, defend.

It’s taken over 30 years of campaigning for the blood scandal victims to be heard. Back in the late 1980s, they first called for compensation on the grounds of medical negligence, but the government refused to admit liability or responsibility and victims were forced to sign waivers not to sue.

Now, the total compensation bill is likely to top £10 billion. However, no amount of money can compensate for the lives destroyed or lost due to the acquired blood-borne infections.

What is the Infected Blood Scandal?

From 1970 to 1991, over 30,000 people were infected with blood products or transfusions contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C. They were largely split into two groups: people with haemophilia, a genetic blood clotting disorder, and patients who needed blood transfusions after surgery or childbirth.

In the early ‘70s, the NHS started using a new treatment for haemophilia called Factor VIII. It was dubbed a wonder drug as it replaced the missing protein using donated plasma. Demand soon exceeded supply in the UK and so the NHS increased its imports from the US. The main problem was that the donations came from high-risk donors such as prisoners and IV drug users who were paid to donate blood.

With Factor VIII donated blood, plasma from thousands of donors was mixed together. So even if one donor had Hepatitis C or HIV, the entire batch would become infected. Despite knowing all this, the NHS continued to import products from the US.

Children with haemophilia were used in medical trials to test the likelihood of developing an infection after being given a new heat-treated Factor VIII. They had to be previously untreated and were put forward by their GPs or other consultants. They were deliberately given the infected blood products without their families knowing. The majority are now dead.

AIDS was first reported in the early 1980s amongst gay men. But it soon started appearing in haemophiliacs or those who had had blood transfusions. HIV was identified as the cause in 1983 but warnings had been given the year before that contaminated blood could be the problem. Their response was that there was no conclusive proof, and on it went.

Donations weren’t routinely screened for Hepatitis C until 1991, 18 months after the previously unknown virus was identified. They blamed a lack of technology, but 23 other countries were screening for Hepatitis C before the UK.

How many people were affected?

It is thought that there were around 30,000 people that received contaminated blood products.

Factor VIII patients:

  • Between 2,400 and 5,000 contracted Hepatitis C
  • 1,250 patients developed both Hepatitis C and HIV
  • Two thirds of those died from AIDS
  • 380 children were infected

Blood transfusion patients:

  • Between 80 and 100 patients developed HIV
  • 27,000 developed Hepatitis C
  • 2,900 people died

Overall, it is thought that 3,000 people have died due to the infected blood scandal. There have been 650 deaths since the inquiry was announced in 2017.

What are the blood-borne infections?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight everyday infections.

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when the immune system has become severely damaged by HIV.

AIDS cannot be transmitted between people, but HIV can. It is found in bodily fluids. Most people experience a short flu-like illness but it can lay dormant for many years. There is no cure, but we do now have treatments that enable people to live long and healthy lives without developing AIDS.

Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver causing cirrhosis and cancer. It was unknown until the late 1980s, but is potentially fatal and sometimes called a silent killer as people can live for years without realising they’re infected. Delayed diagnosis can cause irreparable liver damage whereas earlier diagnosis can enable protection of the liver and better long-term health.

How much compensation will victims receive?

Following the public inquiry report, which was published in May 2024 after seven years, the government proposed a new compensation scheme.

It said that compensation will be judged on five criteria:

  • Injury and harm caused
  • Social impact from stigma and isolation
  • Impact on private life i.e., not having children for fear of passing on infection
  • Care costs
  • Financial losses

Patients with HIV may receive between £2.2 and £2.6 million. Patients with chronic Hepatitis C may receive between £665,000 and £810,000. Partners of those infected with HIV could be entitled to £110,000 and children £55,000.

From April 2025, it is thought that the new scheme will replace the existing financial support. Interim payments of £210,000 will be made over the summer to the 4,000 people who have already received payments of £100,000. This will eventually extend to a wider group of people including family members. In cases where people who would be entitled to compensation have died, the money will go to their estate.

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