A MAJOR public inquiry into the infection of Scottish patients with contaminated blood has been condemned as a "whitewash" across the UK by angry victims and their families.


The long awaited report, which is the result of a £12 million investigation, was greeted with angry shouts and tears at the highly-charged launch in Edinburgh and a copy was set on fire by disgusted campaigners.

Bill Wright, chairman of the charity Haemophilia Scotland and a victim himself of what is being described as the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, had to make a heartfelt plea to people not to walk out after the key findings were read aloud on behalf of the inquiry chairman Lord Penrose.

Fighting back tears, he said: "It might appear at first reading, as many of you have said, to be a whitewash, with frankly some of the chairman's assertions seemingly barely rational. Indeed those of us who have had full sight of the report at first were drawn to rage by its shortcomings."

But, he continued, the evidence it laid out meant the government could not avoid its "moral responsibility" to those patients who caught HIV or Hepatitis C from treatments for blood clotting disorders or blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison both responded to the report by apologising to patients and their families and promising a review of the financial support which they have been offered.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who commissioned the public inquiry in 2008 when she was responsible for health in Scotland, is expected to echo the apology in the Scottish Parliament today.

Ms Robison said: "On behalf of the NHS and Government in Scotland I would like to say sorry to everyone who has been affected by this terrible tragedy. We recognise just how catastrophic this was for everyone affected."

She added: "As Lord Penrose acknowledges, there have been considerable advances in medical and scientific knowledge about blood safety since the early 1980s. Due to stringent testing of blood donations and blood donor selection criteria I am confident that today the blood supply is as safe as it possibly can be. But there is clearly more we can do in this area to support those affected in Scotland, and I am determined we will act quickly to do so."

Lord Penrose, who is seriously ill in hospital, made one clear recommendation - that everyone in Scotland who had a blood transfusion before September 1991 is offered a test for Hepatitis C. This is being adopted.

He estimated that 2500 people in Scotland have contracted the virus from a transfusion and said 478 people were infected through products used to treat bleeding disorders. The report also states that 78 patients caught HIV from blood treatments, including 21 boys who were being treated for haemophilia at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.

However, Lord Penrose did not conclude that these infections could have been avoided.

In the statement on his findings which was read out by Maria McCann, secretary to the inquiry, Lord Penrose said: "Some commentators believe that more could have been done to prevent infection in particular groups of patients. Careful consideration of the evidence has, however, revealed few respects in which matters should, or more importantly could, have been handled differently."

He judged that once the risk of contracting HIV was known, the action to protect patients taken in Scotland compared well to other countries around the world.

With Hepatitis C, in contrast, he found there was a delay in introducing screening of blood donations and concluded therefore that "more could have been done to prevent the infection of patients". The collection of blood from prisoners, when there was clear evidence that some were drugs users, is also examined. The report says: "The inquiry concludes that it is unfortunate that the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service did not consider stopping this practice until 1982."

He made it clear that there was no evidence that clinicians knew they were making patients ill or intended to do so.

In his statement, Lord Penrose said: "For people infected by HIV/Aids and/or hepatitis C, the impact on their lives and the lives of their loved ones has often been devastating.

"I would also comment on the often-forgotten suffering of clinical staff, who discovered that the treatments they thought were beneficial to patients actually caused them to become infected with life-threatening conditions.

"They, too, have been affected, especially when accused of knowing or deliberate attempts to harm patients."

Haemophilia Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to pay-out lump sums to the families affected by the disaster, recognising the pain and suffering as well as the loss of earnings.

The Department of Health has announced an extra £25m in transitional relief , but this was dismissed as a "joke" and "gesture politics" at the report launch.

Haemophilia Scotland said: "The report contains powerful testimony of the horrendous damage to health, relationships and finances suffered by 478 Scottish families affected by bleeding disorders.

"For 193 of them, their loved one has not survived to see the Penrose report published.

"The Scottish public will be shocked and appalled at the level of suffering that has been caused by the greatest scandal ever to engulf the NHS."

It added: "Haemophilia Scotland, those infected, and their families are determined that all the decades of pain, loss and suffering should lead to real improvements in patient safety."

Patients from across the UK travelled to Scotland to see the Penrose report published and echoed the disappointment of Scottish sufferers.

Glenn Wilkinson, from the Contaminated Blood Campaign, said: "It was obvious from the atmosphere in the room there that everybody was shocked.

"We didn't expect the world, we didn't expect this to be the final solution for this campaign but we certainly expected a lot more than that.

"It has created a new level of disappointment.

"Hopes were very high that because it had taken so long we would have some answers this time, and I don't think we've had a single answer from what was said."

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