Contaminated blood victims share their ‘guilt’ at passing on infections without knowing
Contaminated blood victims have shared their “guilt” at giving blood for a number of years before finding out they had contracted hepatitis C, an inquiry has heard.
The public inquiry into the UK-wide infected blood scandal was told of a man who was “devastated” after finding out he could have passed the infection on without his knowledge.
Victims who felt a stigma attached to their diagnosis and wanted to remain anonymous have been given the opportunity to give evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry through three intermediaries.
The experts have so far interviewed some 85 people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including those who have been infected with HIV, hepatitis C, haemophilia and thalassemia.
Some received contaminated blood products through routine or emergency surgery, while others became infected through childbirth.
Kay Durrant, a senior investigating officer with 25 years’ service in the police, who is acting as an intermediary for the inquiry, said “several people were concerned that they had been blood donors and passed on the infection without their knowledge”.
One man, who received contaminated blood during a transfusion after being involved in a road traffic collision when he was a teenager, was “absolutely devastated” at being informed he had hepatitis C after some 15 years of giving blood.
“He still feels guilty that other people throughout that 15-year period could have been infected,” Ms Durrant said.
She said the man, who was not identified, believed he was doing a “good thing (after) having his life saved”, but now suffers with “tremendous guilt”.
Ms Durrant told the inquiry that the absence of any “psychological services” meant that those who had been blood donors before being made aware of their own infection had not received sufficient support.
Pam Allen, another of the intermediaries, who has 40 years’ experience as a social worker, told the inquiry of a woman with a rare blood type who had been encouraged to be a donor.
The woman had made regular donations before finding out she had received contaminated blood products some 20 years earlier.
“She has lived with the guilt that she may have infected other people,” Ms Allen told the inquiry.
The third intermediary, Jackie Wilson, a social worker who has worked with people who have experienced trauma, said there had been “real insensitivity” around how those who were infected had been informed.
“One chap had a transfusion as a result of an injury later in his life and then developed hepatitis C,” she told the inquiry.
“He had been in the Army during the war and the doctor had asked him if he had been a drug user or shared needles in the Army in the 1940s, and he was horrified by this. It felt a real slur on him.”
Ms Wilson said that some of the interviewees were told by medical professionals they “must have caught it abroad”, while others were asked if they had used drugs or had contact with sex workers, which she said must have been “demeaning” for them.
The contaminated blood scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, and around 2,400 people died.
The Infected Blood Inquiry is sitting at Fleetbank House in central London, led by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff.
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