03 February 2023

Government has blood on its hands, says survivor of transfusions scandal

03 February 2023

A tearful “survivor” of the contaminated blood scandal said the Government has blood on its hands following the end of a four-and-a-half year inquiry.

More than 30 people sat in a large viewing room in Aldwych House, west London, to watch a live feed of the inquiry on Friday.

Many of them were infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C as a result of contaminated blood transfusions between the 1970s and 1990s.

Some of them were haemophiliacs and others received blood transfusions after accidents or while giving birth.

Michelle Tolley, 57, of Norfolk, was infected with hep C when she was 22 after receiving a blood transfusion following the birth of her son.

She is living with cirrhosis and runs a support group on Facebook called Contaminated Whole Blood UK, which now has 500 members.

She told the PA news agency: “At the age of 22 I was given a death sentence for committing no crimes.

“I thought I was going to die. I didn’t understand hepatitis. I went through stages of feeling dirty. I became withdrawn. I’m quite a bubbly person but I didn’t even want to speak to my family.

“I can remember sitting in the bath one night and scrubbing my skin thinking: ‘Oh my god I’ve got this disgusting thing in me.’

“I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through at the beginning, with just closing my eyes and seeing a coffin with my name on it.”

Ms Tolley said she wants a “sincere apology” from the Government and for it to compensate infected and affected people.

She added: “I do not want them to start knocking off their recommendations like they’ve done with Windrush, Hillsborough, et cetera. They did this. The fault is in their hands, the blood is on the Government’s hands historically or not. This has gone through four decades and 500 people at least have died during… this inquiry.

“Every time I go for a liver scan, which is twice a year, you’ve got that mindset of: is the cancer there yet? Will I see Christmas? Our daughter got married in October and I cried when she walked down the aisle, as all bride’s mums do but… I cried because I was there to see it.”

Ms Tolley teared up and added: “We’re being murdered. It’s like mass murder. It must never happen again.”

Sue Wathen, 68, of Northamptonshire, was also infected with hep C through a blood transfusion she received in her 20s, given to her because she was anaemic.

She told PA that the infection is “insidious”, that it “mimics” other illnesses and can therefore often go undiagnosed until someone gets cirrhosis or liver cancer.

A former teacher, she said her infection was “avoidable”.

She added: “They knew for a long time that the blood was infected.

“They allowed hospitals to use up existing stocks. Is that not Russian Roulette?”

She said she wanted “honesty” from the Government.

“What I want to see is someone to say we got things wrong, things happened that shouldn’t have happened,” Ms Wathen added.

She implored for people who think they might be at risk to get tested, adding that the modern treatment for Hep C is “amazing”.

Haemophiliac Alan Burgess, of Ipswich, was co-infected with HIV and hep C, which has led to him suffering heart and kidney problems.

The 64-year-old advised watching the Dallas Buyers Club to gain an understanding of what he went through.

Of the movie, Mr Burgess told PA: “His friends turned against him, a lot of my friends did.”

He went on: “I didn’t tell anybody to start with but the ones I did tell, unfortunately they didn’t want to know me.

“We became a bit of an island.”

It is understood the house he shared with his wife and two daughters was vandalised and he lost his business.

Mr Burgess joined a support scheme, the Birchgrove Group, which he called a “double edged sword” because it meant “your friends were dying”.

He said 1,242 people were co-infected with HIV and hep C and now there are only 150 left.

They call themselves “The Old Contemptibles”, named after surviving First World War veterans, he added.

Mr Burgess said he, and others in his position, were “lied to so many times” by politicians.

He said: “We still are. That’s why I’ve got no faith in any politicians.”

He added: “Sir Brian is going to make brilliant recommendations. You just know the Government are going to drag their feet. The only way they are going to respond positively is if you drag them kicking and screaming.”

“Have I got hope?” he asked out loud. “Hope for everything expect nothing. That’s the Government you’re dealing with.”

“It has been like trying to nail jelly to a wall,” he said.

A family from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, described the four and a half years of the inquiry as “listening to a waking nightmare”.

Trevor Marsden, 64, is a haemophiliac and was infected with hep C decades ago.

His wife Louise, 63, and son Sam, were with him on Friday.

Ms Marsden told PA: “It has been very cathartic coming to the inquiry, given that lots of people were treated in isolation, told not to talk about things. Coming here you didn’t have to qualify yourself, you didn’t have to worry  – what will people think, should I tell this person?

“For the infected it was a safe environment.”

Her husband agreed, adding: “You were always stigmatised. You came here and you felt that you were among people that understood.”

Sam told PA that the inquiry has exposed how the framework of holding people to account in Government “is not working” and said the best thing to come out of it would be changing that system.

“Responsibility without accountability is essentially tyranny because it means there is no recourse,” he said.

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