UK's Infected Blood Scandal: How Years Of Cover Ups Killed 3,000 And Caused NHS' 'Deadliest Disaster Ever'

'On behalf of this and every Government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry' - As Rishi Sunak apologises for the deadliest treatment disaster ever in NHS history, a look back into the UK's contaminated blood scandal.

UK's Infected Blood Scandal: How Years Of Cover Ups Killed 3,000 And Caused NHS' 'Deadliest Disaster Ever' Photo: AP

The United Kingdom has been slammed for a decades long infected blood scandal that has killed 3,000 people and left 30,000 people infected with HIV or Hepatitis C. A public inquiry in the scandal, which occurred from the 1970s to 1980s, revealed that the scandal was "not an accident" and there had been multiple coverups to bury it.

In the aftermath of the inquiry report, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised on behalf of Britain and vowed to pay "comprehensive compensation" to those impacted by the decades long scandal.

A Look Into UK's Contaminated Blood Scandal

What Is The Scandal?

The infected blood scandal, also known as one of the deadliest disasters in the history of the National Health Service, resulted in thousands of people contracting HIV or hepatitis C due to contaminated blood transfusions.

In the 1907s and 1980s, people in need of blood transfusions were made to undergo a treatment called Factor VIII, which was a processed pharmaceutical product.

This factor is an essential blood clotting protein used to treat haemophilia - a blood clotting disorder and those with Von Willebrand Syndrome - a bleeding disorder in which the patient’s blood cannot clot fully.

Factor VIII was created by combining plasmas from thousands of donations from blood donors. However, what started out as a "groundbreaking" treatment soon caused infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C due to the making of Factor VIII and then later in the 1980s, Factor IX (Christmas Factor).

As the demand for Factor VIII increased, the UK soon found itself importing the factor from the United States. However, the Factor VIII from the US was created from donations of high-risk donors such as prisoners and drug users, who were paid to donate their blood.

For Factor VIII, since plasma from thousands of samples are combined, even if one sample was infected, the entire batch would be compromised.

This treatment was issued across NHS hospitals and in a few schools were children and students with haemophilia were given Factor VIII.

During this period, Factor VIII was a widely sought treatment and many countries such as Canada, the US, Iran, Italy, Iraq, Japan, Ireland, Portugal, France and the UK saw themselves at the centre of this scandal. However, the maximum number of infections were reported from Britain.

What Did The Report Reveal?

An inquiry into the infected blood scandal was launched in 2017, under former prime minister Theresa May. As per a report published by the Infected Blood Inquiry led by Sir Brain Langstaff on May 20, 2024, it was revealed that over 30,000 people have been infected with HIV, Hepatitis C and in some cases both due to this treatment.

Furthermore, the report stated that around 3,000 people have been killed as a result of receiving tainted blood and more may die as a consequence of the treatment.

Of the 30,000 infected, around 1,250 haemophiliacs have been infected with HIV and Hep C both.

A 'Deliberate' Accident

Several reports and this inquiry by Sir Langstaff's committee has revealed that the British government in 1973 were aware of the risks of the treatment and chose to conceal it.

Many doctors at the NHS did not inform the patients of the risks of Factor VIII and used the treatment to identify those "suitable for a clinical trial".

Furthermore, the UK's Factor VIII treatment took place years after the World Health Organisation had warned countries of the risks of importing plasma in 1953.

The report further added that there was a lack of openness, accountability and that the patients were "deceived" into the treatment.

A BBC Investigation also revealed that many documents regarding Factor VIII and its treatment has been destroyed.

"The infections happened because those in authority - doctors, the blood services and successive governments - did not put patient safety first," stated Sir Brian in the report published on Monday.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) and her government have also been singled out in the report due to their failure to stop the import of the blood products, especially with the rise in AIDS patients in the 1980s.

The report further reveals that studies from the 1940s were ignored during the manufacturing of Factor VIII.  As per advocates, authorities were aware that heat could kill hepatitis in plasma products, yet Factor VIII was not made safe and used unheated to treat patients till 1985.

Was There Any Compensation For The Victims?

Years after the scandal, a charity was set up in the 1990s to offer financial support to those infected with HIV. However, these compensations were only made if the patient and their families stated that they would not sue the Health Department.

Furthermore, the compensations were reduced to those with HIV. Victims with hepatitis or both diseases were barred from receiving or applying for any compensation.

Over 50 years later, Rishi Sunak has vowed to carry out comprehensive compensations to all the victims and families impacted by the contaminated blood scandal. The UK government is expected to release the details of the compensation on Tuesday, which are likely to be divided into - injury, social impact, autonomy, care and financial loss.