Belfast Telegraph

DUP backs inquiry into infected blood scandal that claimed 2,400 lives

By David Hughes

The DUP is supporting a call for Theresa May to announce a Hillsborough-style inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal.

A joint letter from six Opposition leaders in the House of Commons said the probe should look into allegations of a cover-up and claims that patients were not told of the risks, even after the dangers became clear.

The letter is signed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and, significantly, the DUP's leader at Westminster Nigel Dodds - the Prime Minister relies on the party's MPs to prop up her minority government.

Mrs May has promised that health ministers "will look at any new evidence that is brought forward" on the scandal, in which haemophiliacs and others were infected with hepatitis C and HIV from blood products during the 1970s and 1980s.

The DUP has been a long-standing supporter of compensation for victims of the scandal and has argued for greater transparency.

In April last year Jim Shannon MP told the Commons: "On such a sensitive matter, we need to be able to give our full empathy and sympathy to those affected. I really believe that the Government needs to deliver."

The joint letter to Mrs May - also signed by Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP group in the Commons; Lib Dem leader Tim Farron; Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts, and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas - called for the establishment of an inquiry with the power to compel all those involved in the scandal to participate.

The leaders said: "We believe those affected have a right to know what went wrong, and why.

"Whenever public disasters of this kind take place, Government has a fundamental duty to support those affected in getting the answers they need; to disclose everything they know; and to ensure that officials are called to account for their actions.

"We regret that for many decades, the victims of the contaminated blood scandal have been denied this right."

They added: "Among many other considerations, it is alleged that victims' medical details were tampered with to hide the cause of their infections; that documents relating to the scandal were destroyed by Department of Health officials as part of a cover-up; and that patients were not told of the risks, with contaminated products not removed from the blood supply once the dangers became known."

At least 2,400 people are thought to have died as a result of receiving contaminated blood products.

The UK imported supplies of the clotting agent Factor VIII from the US, some of which turned out to be infected - and much of the plasma used to make the product came from donors like prison inmates in the US, who sold their blood.

The joint letter calls for the inquiry to "investigate the role of profit-making American firms in supplying blood factor concentrates to people with haemophilia".

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We know this tragedy has caused unimaginable hardship and pain for those affected.

"That's why we have increased the amount of money we spend on payments to victims to record levels since 2016, with an additional £125m in support funding for those who need it."

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