Inquiry slams "bad blood" delays

LONDON Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:30pm GMT

A donor gives blood in London in this file photo, March 16, 2004. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A donor gives blood in London in this file photo, March 16, 2004.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - An independent inquiry into the supply of contaminated blood to haemophilia patients that lead to the deaths of nearly 2,000 people has criticised government delays in responding to the issue.

During the 1970s and 80s, a total of 4,670 patients were exposed to viruses Hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated NHS "bad blood" products.

Nearly 2,000 patients who suffered from haemophilia, a hereditary bleeding disorder for which there is no cure, died after being infected.

An independent, privately funded public report by former Solicitor General Lord Archer of Sandwell said on Monday the infection of so many patients was "a horrific human tragedy."

The report said a "significant burden of responsibility" lay with the U.S. suppliers of the contaminated products.

They had continued to use paid-for blood donations from communities such as prison inmates after alarms had been raised about possible risks.

But the government had also been too slow to react to the dangers of infection.

"The procrastination in achieving national self-sufficiency to avoid the use of high-risk blood products from overseas had disastrous consequences," the report said.

"Had self-sufficiency been achieved earlier, the scale of the catastrophe would have been significantly reduced. Commercial priorities should never again override the interests of public health."

Successive governments had refused to hold a formal probe into the issue and Chris James, chief executive of the Haemophilia Society said the independent inquiry was the only way to have the voices of those infected heard.

"There are vital lessons to be learned in ensuring that decisions are made in an open and transparent way that fully involves patients," he said.

"Surviving victims also need free and full provision of healthcare in addition to access to insurance and compensation for those who have had their lives ruined."

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison)

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