MARTIN BEARD: No wonder Rishi Sunak was jeered, when tainted blood victims like me have had to wait decades for justice
There were two telling moments at today’s Infected Blood Inquiry at which the Prime Minister was giving evidence when Rishi Sunak was jeered by the audience.
Once when he prevaricated on whether it was good enough that there were still no plans to give compensation to the 30,000 people and their grieving families whose lives were, like mine, ruined by tainted blood.
And secondly when the Prime Minister insisted the Government’s work on this issue was moving ‘at pace’.
Thirty-seven years after I was told, as a teenager, that I had been infected with HIV from contaminated blood products issued by the NHS, it remains enormously frustrating to see yet another Prime Minister insist that we are a priority, that what happened to us was an ‘appalling scandal’ — and yet at the same time failing to make any real progress.
Every four days someone affected by this dies — a tragedy Sunak acknowledged.
The Prime Minister came face to face with protesters and campaigners this afternoon at the inquiry into what happened, and what recompense they should receive. Pictured, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving evidence to the Infected Blood Inquiry
Demonstrators hold placards picturing victims and reading message related to the NHS infected blood scandal as Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is questioned by Inflected Blood inquiry, in London, on July 26, 2023
And the longer the Government delays making a decision on compensation — for which it has already accepted there is a moral case — the fewer individuals and their families will see justice in their lifetimes. That only compounds the agony.
Here, again, Sunak has failed to give us any answers. Not that an official wall of silence is any surprise to us.
It was in 1986, when I was 17, that I learned that I’d been infected with HIV three years previously.
A doctor at North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary bluntly told my Mum and I: ‘I see you have HIV.’ It was a hammer blow. I was predicted to live just two years.
Doctors at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where I’d been previously treated for haemophilia, had failed to tell me that the blood clotting agent, Factor VIII, with which I had been injected, was contaminated with the virus.
Another cousin — like me, infected with HIV from contaminated blood — died, aged 34, from AIDS. At his funeral, I felt as if all eyes were on me, wondering if I would be next.
In the Eighties, medical professionals treated me like a leper; I lost my job on an electronics-assembly line when colleagues found out my status; and I haven’t been able to have relationships.
Liz Gardner (left) and Meg Parsons holding pictures of their brother Robert Gibbs outside the Infected Blood Inquiry in London. Mr Gibbs died aged 21 after finding out he was HIV positive aged 15
Demonstrators hold placards reading message related to the NHS infected blood scandal as Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is questioned by Inflected Blood inquiry, in London, on July 26, 2023
The only real one I ever had ended because I knew she wanted to have children and I couldn’t risk infecting her.
Of course, an HIV diagnosis these days is very different, as many people living with the virus have long and normal lives because of effective treatment, and they cannot pass the virus on.
I know I’m fortunate to still be here, aged 54, when so many are not.
Some died very young, without a life of any kind.
And that is, by anyone’s measure, wrong.
I understand that the Government can scarcely afford the billions it may cost to put this scandal right and I’m grateful for the work done to date (I received £100,000 as an interim compensation payment last year).
But I fear that an election — which could come next year — could only kick the can further down the road. Only survivors, and those who lost spouses, have received any money to date. People whose children died — who have never received any payments — need to be given the compensation they deserve, too.
And a genuine apology would go a long way, with an acknowledgement of the cover-up by politicians and NHS staff.
Perhaps then the community which has suffered for so long can get on with what remains of their lives.
Martin Beard is a campaigner and speaker for tainted blood victims
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