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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Ministers in imported blood blunder accused of cover-up

Sophie Goodchild, Health Editor

THE Government was today accused of a cover-up over an NHS scandal involving thousands of victims infected by contaminated blood.

Campaigners claim ministers withheld dozens of documents relating to the blunder that left nearly 5,000 patients with deadly diseases.

The use of imported blood that had not been properly screened exposed victims to blood viruses including Aids and Hepatitis C more than 20 years ago. Nearly half, including children, have died as a direct result.

But other terminally ill survivors of the scandal, called "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS", have spoken out before an official report into the case.

Published on Monday, the findings of this two-year independent inquiry are expected to be hugely critical of how victims have been treated.

Campaign group Tainted Blood told the Standard that Whitehall officials have still not released at least 30 documents to the inquiry panel chaired by former solicitor general Lord Archer of Sandwell.

Spokesman Gareth Lewis said victims want an official apology, full compensation for their trauma, a full package of medical care and an admission that evidence of the disaster was ignored by successive governments. He said: "My biggest concern is the evidence has been there yet successive governments have tried to hide it.

"It is only through freedom of information laws that we are in the situation we are. But there are still about 30 documents that have not been released that could help us find out the truth about what happened. We just want closure."

The full scale of the contamination scandal only began to emerge at the height of Britain's Aids scare. It was discovered that batches of imported blood and blood products had not been properly screened and were infected with viruses.

Victims included those suffering from haemophilia, a condition in which sufferers lack a blood-clotting protein. This means they require regular blood transfusions.

Those affected spent years battling for any financial settlement because it was difficult to prove exactly which batches of blood were infected.

Eventually they were granted one-off payouts of up to £80,000 on the grounds they were not expected to live. But the development of antiviral drugs has meant many have survived.

The fear now is that survivors are at risk of developing mad cow disease or CJD from the infected blood transfusions and products they received as far back as 20 years ago.

This follows confirmation that an elderly haemophilia sufferer has died from the human form of mad cow disease after contracting it as the result of treatment with infected blood-clotting agent more than 20 years ago.

The Standard has also learned that the US pharmaceutical companies which supplied tainted blood and blood products to the NHS have now agreed to settle with British victims.

This will put pressure on the British Government to revise its compensation deals.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We have great sympathy for the patients and families affected by contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

“This Government has gone further than any other administration in making information available. Only 35 of the 4,500 documents released to the
Archer enquiry so far have been withheld in full or in part – less than one per cent. The majority of these were withheld because they contain personal information, legal advice or on health and safety grounds.

“The facts are now known around this distressing episode and we have introduced tough measures to protect patients."

Treatment gave me HIV when I was 13

BLOOD-contamination victim Andrew March, from Fulham, says he has been made to feel "like a leper".

The composer, now 35, was 13 when his parents told him he had HIV as a result of treatment for a blood disorder.

The Royal College of Music graduate suffers from haemophilia. Mr March was given injections to stabilise the disorder but doctors failed to realise the batches they used of imported blood-clotting protein were not properly screened.

He told the Evening Standard: ''The headmaster at my school said he would have to disinfect the place when he found out (I had HIV). It made me feel like a leper."

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