A two-year privately funded independent inquiry into how nearly 5,000 UK citizens who were given blood transfusions over 20 years ago were infected with Hepatitis C and HIV, found that procrastination on the part of government and scientific agencies was to blame for the “horrific human tragedy”.

Led by Labour Peer Lord Archer of Sandwell, the inquiry authors, who released their findings earlier today, Monday 23 February, concluded that:

“Commercial priorities should never again override the interests of public health.”

4,670 people who were given blood transfusions using NHS supplied blood in the 1970s and 1980s were infected with Hepatitis C, and a quarter of them also became infected with HIV.

According to the Telegraph, the authors said although it was difficult to say exactly who was responsible, they were “dismayed” at how long it took the UK government and scientific advisers to act. In Ireland it took only 5 years for the country to become self-sufficient in blood products, whereas in England and Wales it took 13 years, a rate of progress that the authors described as “lethargic”.

A speedier response on the dangers of Hepatitis C and HIV could have saved many lives. In order to meet the demand, the NHS bought blood products from US suppliers, whose sources included prison inmates, a population known to have a higher prevalence of HIV and Hepatitis C carriers. Lord Archer said it would have been highly unlikely that UK sourced supplies would have come from such a population of donors.

The authors said it was hard not to conclude that “commercial interests took precedence over public health concerns” and that a full public inquiry should have taken place much earlier.

The inquiry was set up after decades of campaiging by victims and their families. Many of the victims included hemophiliacs, nearly 2,000 of whom have died since receiving contaminated blood from the tainted supplies.

52-year old Haydn Lewis, a hemophiliac who lives in Cardiff, told the BBC that he became infected with HIV and Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products. He is waiting for a liver transplant and said he thinks he also infected his wife because doctors delayed telling him he was infected.

Lewis told the BBC the report should have criticized the government more. He said he wants closure, after 20 years of having “a ball and chain around my ankle”.

Lord Archer told the BBC that is was too late to say who is to blame and what the government needs to do is “address is the needs of people now”.

The report authors recommend that the government should set up a compensation scheme for the victims who so far have only received money from charities.

For the full report, visit the website Public inquiry into contaminated blood and blood products.

Sources: Telegraph, BBC News.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD