27 Jul Infected Blood Inquiry: Former health secretary Ken Clarke failed to present evidence demanded by victims, lawyer says | UK News
The contaminated blood scandal has been described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
The lawyer representing more than 1,500 people affected by it has accused former health secretary Ken Clarke of failing to present the evidence demanded by victims.
Campaigners fighting for justice for the victims of the scandal also described the Tory peer’s attitude as “disgraceful”.
Des Collins, senior partner at Collins Solicitors, told Sky News: “We are not finding the evidence is being laid wide open for us to examine.
“The victims after 40 years feel they are entitled to see that evidence.
“They want it on a plate before them so they can look at it and see whether the situation was handled properly at the time and whether it could have been handled in a different way. We are not seeing that so far.”
Infected blood campaigners say they have been waiting for almost 40 years to hear from Lord Clarke, who held the position of health minister from 1982 to 1985, when the threat from contaminated blood products used to treat Haemophiliacs in Britain was first identified.
He has not previously given evidence in relation to the contaminated blood scandal.
But in one of his earliest answers, Lord Clarke said: “I didn’t call meetings on it. I was never the minister directly responsible for blood products. I was never asked to take a decision on blood products.
“I never intervened to take a decision on blood products. I did intervene or get involved in discussions a bit when I wanted to be reassured.”
Lord Clarke said the emerging controversy surrounding the blood products was something that “hardly ever came across my desk” as he was dealing with policies such as closing “old Victorian asylums” or getting rid of “old geriatric hospitals”.
In a sometimes tetchy exchange with lead counsel Jenni Richards QC, Lord Clarke said: “When I arrived (as health minister), the idea that blood products were a very big part of the department’s activity is simply not true.
“It was a very specialist, usually quiet, harmless, subject and was one of the few areas where we didn’t have controversy and there wasn’t very much for the department to do because the blood transfusion service ran itself.”
Jason Evans, founder of Factor 8, an infected blood campaign group, described Lord Clarke’s attitude as “disgraceful’.
He said: “Those infected and affected have waited a long time for this day, and the utter contempt for the inquiry displayed today by Lord Clarke is appalling.
“Our community has suffered enough, and his disgraceful attitude today has only added to that. What on earth he was thinking I have no idea”.
Lord Clarke is appearing in front of the Infected Blood Inquiry this week to give evidence surrounding the scandal, which emerged in the 1980s and saw thousands diagnosed with HIV/Aids and/or hepatitis after receiving blood product treatments for haemophilia.
The illness, which has no cure, impairs the body’s ability to make blood clots.
After his role as health minister, Lord Clarke was later made the health secretary from 1988 to 1990.
During the session, there were audible gasps from survivors and the families of victims who had packed into the inquiry hearing room in central London to listen to the peer’s testimony.
Lord Clarke was asked by Ms Richards: “Do you accept that the (health) department and ministers within the department had a responsibility to ensure the treatment being provided through the National Health Service was safe?”
Lord Clarke responded: “Yes, that’s why we have this network of safety of medicines committees, licensing authorities. They have legal power… to make sure you don’t have some eccentric doctor who is prescribing things which are not actually clinically proven or recommended.
“Never does the minister personally start intervening and imposing a personal decision on what treatment the patients (get).”
In 1972, the UK approved a new version of Factor VIII, a blood-clotting protein which helps prevent bleeds from happening, to be used to treat haemophilia patients in Britain.
Blood products later began being imported from overseas after the production of Factor VIII in the UK was considered to be insufficient to meet demand.
By 1983, fears had been raised that the blood products contained hepatitis and HIV or Aids.
It was later found that many people with the condition had been given blood products, such as plasma, which were infected with hepatitis and HIV.
The Infected Blood Inquiry, an independent probe into those who were affected by the transfusions, will be hearing evidence from Lord Clarke for three days this week.
The inquiry continues.