Sunak issues ‘wholehearted and unequivocal’ apology to infected blood victims

Rishi Sunak has issued a “wholehearted and unequivocal” apology to the victims of the biggest treatment disaster in the NHS, vowing that “comprehensive” compensation will be delivered “whatever it costs”.

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”.

“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.

“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.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard has apologised to victims of the infected blood scandal on behalf of the health service in England, adding people “put their trust in the care they got from the NHS over many years, and they were badly let down”.

Mr Sunak continued 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.

Chairman of the infected blood inquiry Sir Brian Langstaff with victims and campaigners
Chairman of the infected blood inquiry Sir Brian Langstaff with victims and campaigners (Jeff Moore/PA)

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

“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.

INQUIRY Blood
(PA Graphics)

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.”

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 Infected Blood Inquiry found.

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

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.

Sir Brian said the contaminated blood disaster is “still happening” because patients who suffered “life-shattering” infections continue to die every week.

INQUIRY Blood
(PA Graphics)

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.”

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Today is a historic day. By issuing an apology, the Government has acknowledged that it bears the full responsibility for the contaminated blood scandal – the worst treatment disaster in the history of this country.”

She said “no one should have to endure this nightmare ever again” and that the Government “must take action by paying compensation to all people affected by this scandal and acknowledging the pain caused with a national memorial to ensure history remembers all who have died.

“Sir Brian has made it clear that the Inquiry will only close when all the recommendations have been responded to; we welcome his continued watchful eye.”