‘Day of shame’: Rishi Sunak and NHS apologise to infected blood scandal victims after damning inquiry report

Rishi Sunak on Monday issued a “wholehearted and unequivocal” apology to the victims of the biggest treatment disaster in the NHS as he vowed they would be paid “comprehensive compensation”.

The Prime Minister said it was “a day of shame for the British state” after the Infected Blood Inquiry identified a “catalogue of systemic, collective and individual failures” that amounted to a “calamity” that was “no accident”.

“At every level, the people and institutions in which we place our trust failed in the most harrowing and devastating way,” Mr Sunak said in a statement to the House of Commons after the findings of the report were released.

“Layer and layer upon hurt, endured across decades, this is an apology from the State to every single person impacted by the scandal.

“It did not have to be this way. It should never have been this way. And on behalf of this and every government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry.”

He promised to pay “comprehensive compensation” to those affected and infected by the scandal.

“Whatever it costs to deliver this scheme, we will pay it,” he added, saying details would be set out on Tuesday.

Ministers have earmarked around £10 billion for a compensation package.

On behalf of this and every government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry

Rishi Sunak

The head of the health service in England also apologised on Monday saying that people "put their trust in the care they got from the NHS over many years, and they were badly let down".

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard offered her "deepest and heartfelt apologies for the role the NHS played in the suffering and the loss of all those infected and affected".

The 2,527-page report found that the infected blood scandal “could largely have been avoided” and there was a “pervasive” cover-up to hide the truth.

Deliberate attempts were made to conceal the disaster, including evidence of Whitehall officials destroying documents, the inquiry found.

Patients were knowingly exposed to unacceptable risks of infection, the seven-year probe concluded.

Rishi Sunak speaks to MPs about the infected blood scandal (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak speaks to MPs about the infected blood scandal (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA Wire)

More than 30,000 people were infected with deadly viruses while they were receiving NHS care between the 1970s and 1990s, in a disaster described by inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff as a “calamity”.

Sir Brian said “the scale of what happened is horrifying”, with more than 3,000 people dead as a result and survivors battling for decades to uncover the truth.

He said the “level of suffering is difficult to comprehend” and that the harms done to people have been compounded by the reaction of successive governments, the NHS and the medical profession.

Ministers failed to act in order to save face and expense, the inquiry said, with the current Government criticised for failing to act immediately on recommendations around compensation which were made last year.

The former high court judge told broadcasters: “What I have found is that disaster was no accident.

“People put their trust in doctors and the government to keep them safe and that trust was betrayed.

“Then the Government compounded that agony by telling them that nothing wrong had been done, that they’d had the best available treatment and that as soon as tests were available they were introduced and both of those statements were untrue.

“That’s why what I’m recommending is that compensation must be paid now and I have made various other recommendations to help make the future of the NHS better and treatment safer.”

Mr Sunak said that “there can be moving on from a report that is so devastating in its criticism,” adding that ministers will study the probe’s recommendations “in detail” before returning to the Commons with a full response.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that failures applied “to all parties, including my own. There is only one word: sorry.”

He welcomed the Prime Minister’s confirmation of financial support for victims, saying Labour would “work with him to get that done swiftly”.

After a decades-long battle for justice, campaigners welcomed the probe’s recommendations but lamented the fact delays meant many of those responsible would never be held to account.

Corporate manslaughter prosecutions are “extremely” unlikely, according to lawyers.

Clive Smith, chairman of The Haemophilia Society and also a criminal barrister, said: “One of the aspects that, sadly, the delay has caused is the fact that there are doctors out there who should have been prosecuted for manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter, doctors who were testing their patients for HIV without consent, not telling them about their infections.

“Those people should have been in the dock for gross negligence manslaughter.

Families affected by the infected blood scandal were visibly emotional following the release of findings of the six-year inquiry (Getty Images)
Families affected by the infected blood scandal were visibly emotional following the release of findings of the six-year inquiry (Getty Images)

“Sadly, because of the delay, that’s one of the consequences that so many people will not see justice as a result.”

Public inquiries are prohibited from making any recommendations about prosecutions but other countries affected by the scandal have seen ministers brought before the courts.

In the UK, corporate manslaughter prosecutions are less likely to happen, according to Ben Harrison, head of public law at Milners, which represents core participants in the inquiry.

He told the PA news agency: “First and foremost, corporate manslaughter is governed by 2007 legislation which does not apply retrospectively to a time when Crown Immunity existed for any such offence; the time at which so many were tragically and fatally infected.

“I think the chances of any form of corporate manslaughter investigation taking place are extremely remote.”

People put their trust in doctors and the government to keep them safe and that trust was betrayed

Infected Blood Inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff

In her statement NHS England boss Ms Pritchard said: "In particular, I want to say sorry not just for the actions which led to life-altering and life-limiting illness, but also for the failures to clearly communicate, investigate and mitigate risks to patients from transfusions and treatments; for a collective lack of openness and willingness to listen, that denied patients and families the answers and support they needed; and for the stigma that many experienced in the health service when they most needed support.

"I also want to recognise the pain that some of our staff will have experienced when it became clear that the blood products many of them used in good faith may have harmed people they cared for.

"I know that the apologies I can offer now do not begin to do justice to the scale of personal tragedy set out in this report, but we are committed to demonstrating this in our actions as we respond to its recommendations."

She said the NHS would work with the Department of Health and Social Care to establish a psychological support service for people affected by the scandal.

It comes as leading doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) said that the publication of the report marks a "day of shame" for the health service.

Professor Philip Banfield, BMA chairman of council, said: "This is a day to welcome the much overdue transparency and the need to not hide truth from patients, but it is also a day of shame for the NHS, because it has failed to do what it should - to help, not harm, people.

"There is no doubt that thousands of patients were failed, and families put through unimaginable distress, and for that, all those involved need to apologise.

"Simply put, this should never have happened, but when it did, those involved should have been unequivocally candid in their response.

"This is a lengthy, thorough and hugely important report that we will now have to consider in detail and reflect on the implications for the medical profession and doctor-patient relationship.

"Ultimately, all parties must take into account the recommendations to ensure nothing as tragic can happen in our health service ever again, at a point when we are still facing the same poor practice and secrecy when concerns are raised about patient safety."Sir Brian said the contaminated blood disaster is “still happening” because patients who suffered “life-shattering” infections continue to die every week.