After more than three decades we have, at last, a full public inquiry into the infected blood scandal which has led to the deaths of more than 2,500 people and caused incalculable suffering to thousands more.
It is not just the numbers of people involved that are shocking, it is the stories of the impact the scandal has had on their lives — the tales of families torn apart, of young lives full of promise cut all too short.
The story of Barry Flynn, the chairman of The Haemophilia Society, is typical of many. As a haemophiliac he was given infected factor VIII and contracted hepatitis C. His brother, also a haemophiliac, contracted both hepatitis C and HIV. His wife became infected and both sadly died.
I could tell many similar stories — of children growing up without a father, women widowed in their twenties and thirties, parents losing their children. And this is happening today: people are still suffering and dying from their infections, some even in the last few weeks. Each year the book of remembrance that is held at St Botolph’s Church in Bishopsgate has more names added.
Since the 1970s and 1980s, when infected blood products were being used, many other tragedies and events have been investigated through public inquiries. Answers have been found and explanations given. I keep asking myself why this scandal has taken so long to be the subject of real scrutiny.
Now that we have an inquiry there are questions that must be answered. Why, when it was known that viruses could be transmitted to haemophiliacs, were other treatments not used? Why, when there was a government commitment to make the UK self-sufficient in factor concentrate and money was set aside for this, did nothing happen? Why has there been so little government help for people affected by this scandal and why has it taken more than 30 years for a full inquiry?
As our chairman says, he wants to be able to tell his 83-year-old mother why her son and daughter-in-law died so young. This inquiry will not bring people back, it will not rebuild shattered lives and families, it will not end the infections and the suffering they cause, but we hope it will bring some closure, justice and recognition of what has happened and the suffering it has caused.
Chief Executive, The Haemophilia Society