'I am truly sorry': Sunak apologises for infected blood scandal and its 'chilling' cover-up

ITV News Health Correspondent Rebecca Barry breaks down the key findings from the report

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has apologised to the victims of the infected blood scandal and their families, saying "on behalf of this and every government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry".

Delivering a statement to Parliament in response to the release of a damming report into the scandal, the PM said there had been a "catalogue of systemic, collective, and individual fauilures, amounting to a calamity".

In his milestone report, chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry Sir Brian Langstaff said there had been a "cover-up" of the scandal by politicians and the NHS, with key documents "deliberately destroyed".

Mr Sunak apologised "for the institutional refusal to face up to these failings, and worse to deny and even attempt to cover them up".

He promised to "pay comprehensive compensation to those infected and affected", declaring "whatever it costs to deliver this scheme, we will pay it".

NHS England also apologised to victims, saying that people "put their trust in the care they got from the NHS" and they were "badly let down".

NHS England Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard, offered her "deepest and heartfelt apologies for the role the NHS played in the suffering and the loss of all those infected and affected".

"I know that the apologies I can offer now do not begin to do justice to the scale of personal tragedy set out in this report," Ms Pritchard said

"But we are committed to demonstrating this in our actions as we respond to its recommendations."

She said the NHS would work with the Department of Health and Social Care to establish a psychological support service for people affected by the scandal.

The landmark report into the infected blood scandal concluded on Monday the disaster was "no accident".

Labelled the "worst treatment disaster in the NHS," the infected blood scandal saw more than 30,000 people infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, after being treated with contaminated blood products.

The long-awaited report released on Monday revealed the risks were "well-known" decades before the infected blood products were used on patients in the UK.

Sir Brian concluded "the chief responsibility for the failings lied with successive governments", and that they "showed little interest in finding the truth".

The scandal happened in the 1970s and 1980s, and after decades of campaigning for justice, victims and their families are finally getting answers in a milestone report.

ITV News Midlands Correspondent Ben Chapman heard the reaction of victims to the scandal as the Infected Blood Inquiry delivered its long-awaited findings

What are the key findings from the report?

  • The disaster was not an accident, it could have been avoided and should have been

  • There was a "cover-up" by the NHS and government

  • The risks around the blood products were known about decades before most patients were treated

  • The main responsibility for the failings lies with successive governments, who "showed little interest in finding the truth"

  • Patients were tested without their knowledge or consent and were not informed of the result, sometimes for years, leading many to unknowingly infect loved ones

  • Some people, including children, were "betrayed" by being used in medical trials without their knowledge

  • Key documents about the scandal were "deliberately destroyed" because they "contained material dealing with delays in the UK to the introduction of screening of blood donations for Hepatitis C"

  • There was a "doctor knows best" attitude with treatments going ahead without question

In his damning report, Sir Brian said "lives, dreams, friendships, families and finances were destroyed" by the scandal that "could have been prevented and should have been".

He places the majority of the blame for the disaster on "successive governments", saying they showed "little interest in finding the truth, listening to those infected, or taking action," and refused to admit responsibility in order to "save face". 

After years of concerns about a cover up by those in charge, on Monday Sir Brian acknowledged that had happened, with key documents destroyed.

“Standing back, and viewing the response of the NHS and of government overall, the answer to the question ‘was there a cover-up?’ is that there has been", Sir Brian said.

“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.

“In this way there has been a hiding of much of the truth.”

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According to the report, there was a deliberate decision to destroy Department of Health files which contained material dealing with delays in the introduction of screening blood donations for hepatitis C.

The files, which related to decision-making of the Advisory Committee on the Virological Safety of Blood (ACVSB), were marked for destruction in 1993.

“The destruction was not an accident, nor the result of flood, fire or vermin,” Sir Brian wrote.

“The immediate reason for destruction was human choice. Someone, for some reason, had chosen to have those documents destroyed.”

The report also revealed that not only were patients for HIV and Hepatitis C tested without their knowledge, they were not informed of the results until in some cases years later, meaning they carried the viruses for years, infecting loved ones.

People were "denied the opportunity to control the progression of their illness or to prevent its spread to those close to them," Sir Brian writes.

One of the most shocking findings was some people were "betrayed by being used in medical trials without their knowledge or informed consent".

The inquiry chair also concluded there was a "doctor knows best" attitude, which meant government health departments did not properly scrutinise the use of the treated blood products.

Sir Brian made a number of recommendations in the report, one of the most significant being that anyone who received a blood transfusion before 1996 should be offered a test for Hepatitis C.

'Trust was betrayed,' Sir Brian Langstaff said

In an interview with broadcasters, the senior lawyer said: "People put their trust in doctors and the government to keep them safe, that trust was betrayed."

Sir Brian said the government "compounded the agony of victims" by telling them "nothing wrong had been done" and they had "the best available treatment", but "both of those statements were untrue."

The inquiry chair also insisted that alongside a full apology from government, "compensation must be paid now".

Speaking at an event with victims and campaigners, Sir Brian was met with a lengthy round of applause, to which he replied: "You're actually applauding the wrong people... This is your report."

Richard Warwick was a pupil at Treloar's College in Hampshire, a specialist boarding school which treated haemophiliac boys.

The report found the children at the school were used as "objects for research", with infected blood products tested on them.

Of the pupils that attended the school in the 1970s and 1980s, “very few escaped being infected” and of the 122 pupils with haemophilia that attended the school between 1970 and 1987, only 30 are still alive.

'Used as guinea pigs' - a victim of the infected blood scandal tells of being tested on while at school

Mr Walker says he and other boys at the school "were being used essentially as human guinea pigs. There was no regard for human life, there was no consent given, our parents weren't told."

He said the report was "shocking even to [victims] to read".

Victims and campaigners gathered for a press conference on Monday in which they said they had been "gaslit for generations".

Andy Evans of campaign group Tainted Blood said "This report today brings an end to that. It looks to the future as well and says this cannot continue, this ethos of denial and cover up."

Clive Smith, chairman of The Haemophilia Society, said the finding is “no surprise” and is something campaigners have known for decades.

He added: “I think many of the politicians should hang their heads in shame.”

“No single person is responsible for this scandal. It’s been the result of generations of denial, delay and cover-up,” Mr Smith continued.

Reacting to the release of the report on Monday, former Health Secretary and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: "There are questions for everybody here, for all political parties, for parliament. How did this take so long? How did injustice on this scale go under a cover-up for decades?"

What is the infected blood scandal?

In total, more than 3,000 people are known to have died as a result of the infected blood scandal.

The Haemophilia Society also estimates that between the start of the inquiry and the publishing of its findings, another 650 will have also passed away.

Campaign group Factor 8 say one victim dies every four days. There are also an estimated 98 deaths since the inquiry recommended everyone get immediate compensation last April.

Between 1970 and 1991 it's thought up to 30,000 people were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after they were treated with contaminated blood.

It happened because the UK imported blood products from the US to treat conditions like haeomophilia.

In the US donors were paid to give their blood, and were often prisoners and drug addicts, many of whom had deadly viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C.

The blood donated was then pooled together to make the drugs, which meant entire batches were often contaminated.

There were numerous warnings about the imported blood and the risks, but the UK was unable to produce the amounts of blood it needed, so carried on importing it from abroad.

Some of the witnesses at the inquiry have included senior politicians - like former prime minister Sir John Major, current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and former health secretaries Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham.

The inquiry's final report had been expected in autumn last year, but Sir Brian said he needed more time to prepare "a report of this gravity".

It's expected the government will lay out their plans on how they will compensate victims on Tuesday in Parliament.

The compensation package is anticipated to be around £10 billion.

Victims and their families have already received some compensation - in July 2022, Sir Brian made his first formal recommendation that victims should be given interim compensation payments of £100,000 each.

There were 4,000 eligible survivors and families who received the payments.

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