Headmaster told pupils not to worry about hepatitis diagnosis, blood probe told

Infected Blood Inquiry (PA Media)
18:22pm, Tue 22 Jun 2021
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A man whose school became embroiled in the infected blood scandal said his former headmaster told students “not to worry” after they were told they had contracted hepatitis through treatments for haemophilia, an inquiry has heard.

Nicholas Sainsbury, 57, gave evidence virtually to the Infected Blood Inquiry during the second day of this week’s hearing, which focuses on haemophilic students who received treatment for the illness when they were pupils at Lord Mayor Treloar College, in Hampshire, during the 1970s and 1980s.

It later transpired the haemophilic students had been treated for the illness using blood products which were infected with HIV and hepatitis.

The headmaster said: ‘Not to worry, there’s two types of hepatitis - the fatal kind, the serious, and the non-serious, the mild type. You’ve got the mild type so there’s nothing to worry about’

Mr Sainsbury told the inquiry on Tuesday what happened when the school had an outbreak of Hepatitis B in the autumn term of 1975, which saw around 16 boys diagnosed.

He said: “The only information we were ever given was when the headmaster stood up at the meal time and said: ‘I understand some of you are worried about this hepatitis that’s been going round.’

“He said: ‘Not to worry, there’s two types of hepatitis – the fatal kind, the serious, and the non-serious, the mild type. You’ve got the mild type so there’s nothing to worry about.’ And that was all the information we were given.”

He added it was “disturbing to see” how the school reacted to the boys who were diagnosed, stating they were told to hand their plates and crockery back to the canteen staff and they were marked with red spots to separate them from the other pupils’.

Infected Blood Inquiry (PA Media)

“I just thought that was awful,” he said. “No-one ever mentioned it again.”

Mr Sainsbury, who has HIV, Hepatitis B and C, joined the school aged 11 in 1974 and left in 1980. He was originally treated with cryoprecipitate and plasma before joining the school, where he began being treated with Hemofil, Lister, Factor VIII and Kryobulin.

He added he remembered asking the nurses about the treatment he was being given.

“We gradually started to get the Factor VIII concentrate,” he said. “I did read the warning on the bottle, it said: ‘Warning, this product cannot be guaranteed to be free from viral infection.’

“I said to one of the haemophilia nurses: ‘What does this mean?’ And she said: ‘Oh take no notice, it’s just there for legal purposes. They get it from America.’

His questioning took place prior to the school’s outbreak of Hepatitis B.

“I received every type of product there was. I suspect the reason for that was they were trying to get as close, unit-wise, to what was needed.

“Looking back, it feels incredible they didn’t try to limit it to one product … but they would have needed a large supply on hand all the time, so they probably had no choice but to get it from other places,” he said.

During his time at school, Mr Sainsbury said neither he nor his parents were informed of the treatment products he was receiving to help him with his haemophilia or other goings-on at school.

“There were many positives about it – we got the education we wouldn’t have got, we got the treatment we wouldn’t have got. But when I joined in 1974, it was a very harsh regime, it wasn’t very personal,” he said.

“It was cold, institutional and I think they just didn’t know how to tackle issues like bullying. I endured and witnessed serious bullying. I was attacked from behind once – my glasses were punched through my ear, so you can imagine the amount of Factor VIII needed for that. The boy (who did it) got a 50 pence fine.

“Shouldn’t the parents have been notified? And the bully’s parents? Things like that. They talk about consent, they talk about communicating, but there was just nothing.”

Mr Sainsbury said he was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 and was told in a “casual manner” by his doctor that he had a “liver thing” in 1990 but only found out several years later, in the mid-90s, that it was Hepatitis C.

He discovered his diagnosis for Hepatitis B in 2003 after joining a class action lawsuit against an American Factor VIII manufacturer.

He said records showed he was diagnosed in 1977 while at he was at Lord Mayor Treloar College, but was made unaware of the diagnosis.

Later in the afternoon, another student, Gary Bennett, gave evidence during the inquiry.

Mr Bennett, who was diagnosed with HIV, Hepatitis B and C, attended the school with his younger brother Tony as “severe haemophiliacs”, although Tony had a much worse case.

In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Bennett said he and his brother initially received cryoprecipitate but when they began attending the school, they received Factor VIII during their treatment, which Mr Bennett said he would argue with the doctors about as he felt like it “hammered his veins”.

He said he was about 13 or 14 when he found out he had been infected with HIV due to a number of “bad batches”.

Mr Bennett, along with 10 others, were called to a classroom one day at school when a doctor from the NHS centre at the school, Dr Wassef, who told them to write down a number of a particular batch of Factor VIII.

(My parents) received nothing from Treloar, ever

They were then told to ring their parents and check if the batch was at home and if it was, it needed to be returned to a hospital, but did not explain why or tell his parents why.

In 1986 Mr Bennett’s parents sat him and Tony down and told them they had been infected with HIV since 1982 – a fact they learned through their local hospital.

“They received nothing from Treloar, ever,” he added.

Mr Bennett found out about his hepatitis diagnoses much later in life.

Tony, who did not develop Aids but did have HIV, died on Christmas Day in 2005.

The school, which has since rebranded to Treloar’s, previously issued a statement on Monday that said it was “supportive of the campaign for truth, answers and justice by our former pupils”.

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