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Contaminated blood victims seek answers

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A public inquiry into the deaths of almost 3,000 people infected with HIV or hepatitis C by contaminated blood products opens today.

Victims hope it will finally establish the truth about the greatest treatment scandal in the history of the NHS.

The Infected Blood Inquiry, chaired by retired judge Sir Brian Langstaff, will begin a process expected to last between two and five years with three days of hearings in central London.

At least 4,689 people, many of them haemophiliacs, were infected with HIV, hepatitis C or both in the 1970s and 1980s after being administered contaminated blood products imported from the United States.

At least 2,944 have since died, including all but 50 of the more than 1,200 infected with HIV and hepatitis C.

Many were infected by supplies of Factor VIII, an essential blood-clotting protein that haemophiliacs do not produce naturally.

The UK was reliant on supplies imported from the US, where it was manufactured with blood collected from prisoners, sex workers, drug addicts and other high-risk groups who were paid to give blood.

The inquiry will also examine the cases of at least 5,000 non-haemophiliacs infected with transfusions because of failings in the screening and supply of British blood donations.

Blood factors obtained from young beings can improve late-life health in animals, the study reveals
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Many victims were infected by supplies of Factor VIII, a blood-clotting protein

The impact of the mass infections went beyond those who were killed or are still living with the consequences of serious illness.

Many partners and children were subsequently infected, and families had to live with the deep stigma surrounding HIV in the 1980s.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced the inquiry in July last year, on the eve of a parliamentary debate on the issue and the filing of a High Court group action brought by victims.

At least another 70 people have died since then, and it is estimated many more will not live to see the inquiry’s recommendations.

Theresa May makes a statement on Brexit negotiations
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Prime Minister Theresa May announced the inquiry in July last year

The inquiry will examine how and why contaminated blood was used freely in the NHS, what was known about the risk of infection, and the impact on those affected.

It will also investigate persistent claims of a cover-up at the Department of Health and the deliberate destruction of documents, complicity by the drugs industry, and claims some haemophiliacs were deliberately infected and used as guinea pigs for research.

Former health minister Lord David Owen, who called for the UK to be self-sufficient in Factor VIII, says his papers were destroyed and believes officials attempted to destroy evidence.

Last autumn, Sky News revealed previously unseen cabinet papers that suggested ministers were aware of the scale of the contamination problem in 1987.

The papers were uncovered by Jason Evans, founder of campaign group Factor 8, whose father was infected and died from HIV when he was four.

Lord David Owen called for the UK to be self-sufficient in Factor VIII
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Lord David Owen called for the UK to be self-sufficient in Factor VIII

He has spent the last three years campaigning for a full judge-led inquiry.

“I grew up without ever knowing my father and it it’s had a huge long-term impact on the family,” he told Sky News.

“I’m now 29 years old and having to fight a battle that should have been dealt with 30 years ago. The ripple effects for me and so many other people are huge.”

Mr Evans said the inquiry must examine allegations of a cover-up, but said many victims were sceptical.

“It needs to look at the government, medical profession, pharmaceutical companies and also the cover up, what I would allege was a cover up, that followed after the infections had taken place.

“I think at this point cautious optimism is exactly where most of the affected community are at, there is a lot of hope for this inquiry but after everything that has happened over the last 30 years it’s inevitable there will be doubt.

“There will be fear, there will be scepticism about how genuine this inquiry is and the results that it will bring about.”

It will begin with a commemoration of the dead and dying before an opening statement from Sir Brian, followed on Tuesday and Wednesday by statements from victims and their lawyers.

Evidence sessions will begin in the spring.

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