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It’s taken 29 years for the government to admit it killed my father

Compensation is finally in sight for the victims of the infected blood scandal, including my dad

Jason Evans
31 May 2022, 3.02pm

Jason Evans, whose father was given infected blood and died of AIDS in 1993

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DSP (Darlow Smithson Productions)

As I trawl through my father’s papers, I find a letter from MP David Lightbown dated 6 December 1990.

It opens: “Dear Mr and Mrs Evans. It was nice to meet you both and your small child at my advice bureau.” That “small child” was me, shortly after my first birthday, at my first meeting with an MP about the contaminated blood scandal.

I’m now 32, and I’m still meeting MPs about the same thing.

Less than three years after the 1990 meeting, my father died of AIDS. He was one of the thousands infected with hepatitis C and HIV via the blood product factor VIII. It was a treatment for the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia.

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The creation of factor VIII in the 1970s and early 1980s used dangerous manufacturing processes, mixing thousands of blood plasma donations. Plasma was collected from high-risk paid donors in the US, South America and Africa. It was a disaster waiting to happen; the risks were evident, and we should have been using alternative treatments.

Three decades later, those impacted in the UK are still fighting for truth and justice.

Review on compensation payments

The Sunday Times reported this week that some kind of justice may now be on the horizon in the form of compensation. In 2021, the Cabinet Office commissioned Sir Robert Francis QC to look at options for compensation payments and report back to them. Sir Robert’s review is separate from the Infected Blood Inquiry, set up in 2017 and still ongoing.

Sir Robert’s report is due to be published in a couple of weeks, in mid June, and the government is reportedly preparing to say there is a “strong moral case” for compensation. It is likely that this will run into, at least, hundreds of millions of pounds.

In 1990, when my father met his MP, the government already accepted the “moral” blame for haemophiliacs becoming infected, but denied fault. Ministers contested that there had been no negligence and no one was to blame. Armed with this reasoning, they refused to pay damages.

What struck fear into the hearts of ministers and officials – and no doubt still does today – was setting a precedent for no-fault compensation. However, as now evident from the Infected Blood Inquiry, there certainly is blame to be apportioned.

Stigma, illness and death

Losses suffered by victims and families are staggering because people lost everything, not just their health. I know this first hand because many of them are my friends.

Amid the brutal stigma of AIDS in the 1980s, people were fired from their jobs. They were denied health insurance and mortgages. Most silently accepted their fate. Trying to fight such decisions only meant revealing your HIV status.

During the 1990s, the majority of those infected with HIV through contaminated blood products died – often after seeing one or more of their haemophiliac friends die first. One of the victims who gave evidence to the inquiry said he had been to more than 70 funerals.

Out of the 1,243 haemophiliacs infected with HIV through contaminated blood, only some 200 remain alive today. Even after AIDS had ravaged this community, there remained a second viral nemesis. Hepatitis C, which infected thousands more, can take decades before its liver-destroying effects become fully apparent. Even though treatments exist, people are still dying. Liver damage over the decades is irreversible in many cases.

It’s correct that the government should pay compensation, but why has it taken so long? Equally, why wasn’t a public inquiry held before 2017? I’m not sure I can describe 30 years without justice as merely “being delayed”.

Sir Robert is due to give evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry in mid July, a month after his review is published. He will be questioned over his recommendations to the government.

Those impacted are on tenterhooks. We hope this might be the beginning of the end. Likewise, we’ve been led up the mountain and back down before.

Compensation certainly won’t bring people back from the dead. Sometimes I question whether it would even cover all the costs incurred fighting for it.

In two weeks, when the review is published, we’ll know if the present government is serious about ending this battle. In the meantime, victims and families wait with great anxiety to hear what is proposed and if the government will accept responsibility at long last.

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