Peers have called for urgent government action to help people with haemophilia who became infected by contaminated NHS blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.
The House of Lords was debating the findings of an independent public inquiry, headed by the Labour peer Lord Archer of Sandwell, into how people with haemophilia were infected with HIV and hepatitis C.
Nearly 5,000 people with haemophilia were exposed to hepatitis C, and more than 1,200 of them were also exposed to HIV. Nearly 2,000 have died as a result of being infected. Many more are terminally ill.
Baroness (Jane) Campbell, a crossbench peer, told the debate that her first husband, Graham, and his brother, Anthony, both died as result of receiving contaminated blood products in the mid-1980s.
She said there had been a “scandalously slow reaction” by successive governments. “We have needed this inquiry for a long, long time and now we even more need a response from a government who have been too silent on this issue.”
She said she hoped an amendment by Lord (Alf) Morris that would set up a statutory committee to advise the government on services for people with haemophilia and help those infected, would be included in the government’s health bill as it passed through parliament.
She added: “Haemophiliacs living with the consequences of lethal treatment require the best information, the best support and the best advice. The proposed statutory committee can provide that. The government have the opportunity to show at last that they recognise the extraordinary plight of haemophiliacs.”
Lord Morris, the Labour peer who secured the debate and is president of the Haemophilia Society, criticised the government for not yet responding to the inquiry report, which was published in February. He said it should do more to implement the inquiry’s call for improved access to NHS facilities for infected patients, and to secure the financial future of the Haemophilia Society.
Lord Morris said the lives of people dependent on NHS blood and blood products were now at risk from a “third deadly scourge”, with a growing number having been treated with blood from donors who since died of variant CJD.
He called on the government to do more to make NHS blood and blood products free of the abnormal prions which cause variant CJD.
Lord Archer told the debate that the government could mitigate the consequences of the tragedy by setting up the statutory committee, and providing financial assistance to those affected. He said families who formerly enjoyed good living standards were now forced to live on benefits.
He said: “We believe that it is unworthy for the government to argue, ‘It wasn’t our fault, so we won’t relieve the financial hardship.’”
Baroness Thornton, a government health spokeswoman, said the government took the report “very seriously” but was still “considering the implications”.
She said the government was “deeply sorry” for what happened and it was considering the issue of further compensation for those infected, the funding position of the Haemophilia Society and a possible statutory committee.
She said the threat posed by variant CJD was “currently uncertain”, and added: “We have implemented a series of precautionary measures over the past decade to protect the blood supply and we continue to monitor this area very closely in conjunction with our expert advisory committees.”