Infected Blood Inquiry Report Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Infected Blood Inquiry Report

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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Mr Speaker, Sir Brian Langstaff has today published the final report of the infected blood inquiry. This is a day of shame for the British state. Today’s report shows a decades-long moral failure at the heart of our national life. From the national health service to the civil service, to Ministers in successive Governments, at every level the people and institutions in which we place our trust failed in the most harrowing and devastating way. They failed the victims and their families, and they failed this country.

Sir Brian finds a “catalogue” of systemic, collective, and individual failures, each on its own serious, and taken together amounting to “a calamity”. The result of this inquiry should shake our nation to its core. This should have been avoided. It was known that these treatments were contaminated. Warnings were ignored, repeatedly. Time and again, people in positions of power and trust had the chance to stop the transmission of those infections. Time and again, they failed to do so.

Sir Brian finds “an attitude of denial” towards the risks of treatment. Worse, to our eternal shame, and in a way that is hard even to comprehend, they allowed victims to become “objects for research”. Many, including children at Lord Mayor Treloar College, were part of trials, conducted without their or their parents’ knowledge or consent. Those with haemophilia or bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B through NHS treatment, through blood clotting products such as factor 8, including those who had been misdiagnosed and did not even require treatment. Many were infected through whole blood transfusions. Others were infected through their partners and loved ones, often after diagnoses had been deliberately withheld for months or even years, meaning that these infections should easily have been prevented.

I find it almost impossible to comprehend how it must have felt to be told that you had been infected, through no fault of your own, with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C; or to face the grief of losing a child; or to be a young child and lose your mum or dad. Many of those infected went on to develop horrific conditions, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, pneumonia, TB and AIDS, and to endure debilitating treatments, such as interferon, for these illnesses —illnesses the NHS had given them.

Many were treated disdainfully by healthcare professionals, who made appalling assumptions about the origin of their infections. Worse still, they were made to think that they were imagining it. They were made to feel stupid. They felt abandoned by the NHS that had infected them. Those who acquired HIV endured social rejection, vilification and abuse at a time when society understood so little about the emerging epidemic of AIDS. With illness came the indignity of financial hardship, including for carers, those widowed and other bereaved family members.

Throughout it all, victims and their loved ones have had to fight for justice, fight to be heard, fight to be believed and fight to uncover the full truth. Some had their medical records withheld or even destroyed. The inquiry finds that some Government papers were destroyed in

“a deliberate attempt to make the truth more difficult to reveal.”

Sir Brian explicitly asks the question: “Was there a cover-up?” Let me directly quote his answer for the House: “there has been”. He continues:

“Not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications. To save face and to save expense, there has been a hiding of much of the truth.”

More than 3,000 people died without that truth. They died without an apology. They died without knowing how and why this was allowed to happen. And they died without seeing anyone held to account.

Today, I want to speak directly to the victims and their families, some of whom are with us in the Gallery. I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice. First, I want to apologise for the failure in blood policy and blood products, and the devastating—and so often fatal—impact that had on so many lives, including the impact of treatments that were known or proved to be contaminated; the failure to respond to the risk of imported concentrates; the failure to prioritise self-sufficiency in blood; the failure to introduce screening services sooner; and the mismanagement of the response to the emergence of AIDS and hepatitis viruses among infected blood victims.

Secondly, I want to apologise for the repeated failure of the state and our medical professionals to recognise the harm caused. That includes the failure of previous payments schemes, the inadequate levels of funding made available, and the failure to recognise hepatitis B victims.

Thirdly, I want to apologise for the institutional refusal to face up to these failings—and worse, the denial and even the attempt to cover them up—the dismissing of reports and campaigners’ detailed representations; the loss and destruction of key documents, including ministerial advice and medical records; and the appalling length of time it took to secure the public inquiry that has delivered the full truth today.

There is layer upon layer of hurt, endured across decades. This is an apology from the state to every single person impacted by this scandal. It did not have to be this way. It should never have been this way. On behalf of this and every Government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry.

Today is a day for the victims and their families to hear the full truth acknowledged by all and, in the full presence of that truth, to remember the many, many lost loved ones. But justice also demands action and accountability, so I make two solemn promises. First, we will pay comprehensive compensation to those infected and those affected by this scandal, accepting the principles recommended by the inquiry, which builds on the work of Sir Robert Francis. Whatever it costs to deliver the scheme, we will pay it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office will set out the details tomorrow.

Secondly, it is not enough to say sorry, pay long-overdue compensation and then attempt to move on. There can be no moving on from a report that is so devastating in its criticisms. Of course, in some areas medical practice has long since evolved, and no one is questioning that every day our NHS provides amazing and lifesaving care to the British people. But Sir Brian and his team have made wide-ranging recommendations. We will study them in detail before returning to the House with a full response. We must fundamentally rebalance the system so that we finally address the pattern, so familiar from other inquiries such as Hillsborough, where innocent victims have to fight for decades just to be believed.

The whole House will join me in thanking Sir Brian and his team, especially for keeping the infected blood community at the heart of their work. We would not be here today without those who tirelessly fought for justice for so many years. I include journalists and parliamentarians in both Houses, especially the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), but most of all, the victims and their families. Many of them have dedicated their lives to leading charities and campaign groups, pouring their own money into decades of running helplines, archiving, researching and pursuing legal cases, often in the face of appalling prejudice. It is impossible to capture the full pain and injustice that they have faced. Their sorrow has been unimaginable. They have watched loved ones die, cared for them as they suffered excruciating treatments, or provided their palliative care. Many families were broken up by the strain. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been knocked off course; dreams and

potential unfulfilled.

But today, their voices have finally been heard. The full truth stands for all to see. We will work together across Government, our health services and civil society to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen in our country again. I commend this statement to the House.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Leader of the Opposition.

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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the collegiate tone in which he has responded to today’s report, and for his sincerity. He is right that it is irrefutably clear that an unconscionable injustice has been done—the result of a consistent and systemic failure by the state time and again, decade after decade. That is why I apologise wholeheartedly and unequivocally to every single person impacted by the scandal. The anger and sorrow felt across this House is the right response. It is right that we now act on behalf of the victims, their loved ones and the whole community, who expect us to put right this historic wrong.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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The thousands of people at Central Hall thanked Sir Brian Langstaff, and he thanked them. As has been said, we should acknowledge the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and her leadership of the all-party group.

Permanent secretaries and Cabinet Secretaries need to say to everyone throughout their chain, “Are we doing something that is right? Are we doing something that is necessary? Are we doing something that will work?” Does my right hon. Friend agree that if those questions had been asked more effectively, the number of tragedies would have been not five for every MP—and five times again for everyone injured or affected—but greatly reduced, and that we would have learned the truth earlier?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Let me start by thanking my hon. Friend for his dedicated work co-chairing the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, alongside the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). I assure him that Sir Brian’s report is highly detailed and sets out a number of recommendations, and that we will respond to it in full as quickly as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP leader.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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I wish to begin by stating something I think we all now agree is self-evidently the case, which is that this scandal represents the very worst of Westminster: decades of deflection, decades of denial and, of course, decades of deceit; children used as research; parents watching their children die; children watching their parents die; and tens of thousands of people impacted, many of whom are not here to see this day. For those who imposed this tragedy upon them, no consequences have yet been felt. But today is not about them.

Today is about the victims, and I say to them, on behalf of myself and my colleagues in the Scottish National party on these Benches: I wish to offer you three things. The first is an apology. I am incredibly sorry that this happened to you. The second is to say, quite openly, thank you; thank you for your determination and your desire—for being able to pry open the doors of this place and ensure that your voices were heard by all of us. We would not be here today without your efforts. The third is to say to the victims: I can assure you that we will do everything we can to ensure that the Government implement the recommendations, as laid out today.

We have heard the Prime Minister make a very sincere promise in relation to compensation; and we will work with him and his Government, and indeed any future Government, to ensure that that promise is swiftly kept.

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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement, and for her care and unwavering dedication to delivering justice. She knows better than anyone in the House the devastation that this scandal has inflicted on the community, and the strength they have shown in their fight for the truth. Sir Brian’s report sets out a decades-long failure and makes it clear that this is a moment of national shame. No one could fail to be moved by the stories within it, by the utterly shameful treatment of victims and their loved ones, by the callousness and cruelty that they suffered, and by their outstanding bravery, resilience and refusal to yield to a lifetime of prejudice and trauma. They have fought for the truth to be out, and they were right. Above all, today is a day for their voices to be heard.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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That completes this short statement. There will be a full statement tomorrow, when all the details of compensation will be brought to the House and all Members will be able to get in.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you received any explanation for why we are getting only half an hour of the Prime Minister’s time? I know there will be a statement tomorrow by the Paymaster General, which we are all looking forward to, but what could be more important than being here and taking questions from—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I will answer the question. I have worked very closely with different parties and, most importantly, this is about the families. It is their day, which is why the statement has been done in this way. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would wish to respect that, rather than question it.