Infected blood report marks major reckoning for the British state

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A day of shame for the British state” — that was Rishi Sunak’s verdict on the publication of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s final report, delivered via ministerial statement in the House of Commons yesterday. Watch our summary of that statement here.

The harrowing report from Sir Brian Langstaff, the inquiry chair, blamed “successive governments, the NHS, and blood services” for failures that led to 30,000 people being “knowingly” infected with either HIV or Hepatitis C through blood transfusions and an estimated 2,900 deaths.

Marking a solemn day in the commons chamber, Rishi Sunak offered a “wholehearted and unequivocal” apology to the victims of the scandal — on behalf of every government stretching back to the 1970s.

The PM also made two “promises” at the despatch box: the first committed the government to a comprehensive compensation scheme “whatever it costs”, and the second confirmed that the report’s recommendations would be acted on.

“We must fundamentally rebalance the system so we finally address this pattern so familiar from other inquiries like Hillsborough, where innocent victims have to fight for decades just to be believed”, the prime minister said.

The substance and sentiment of Sunak’s statement were echoed entirely by Keir Starmer. Looking up at the affected families in the House of Commons gallery, the Labour leader could not have been plainer: “Politics itself has failed you”.

There was no attempt to distance Labour from the scandal: “That failure applies to all parties, including my own. There is only one word. Sorry”, Starmer said.

He added: “Lessons must be learnt to make sure nothing like this happens again. We must restore the sense that this is a country that can rectify injustice, particularly when carried out by institutions of the state”.

It was a fundamentally apolitical day — but Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, a doughty campaigner on the infected blood scandal and its victims’ most powerful voice in parliament, singled out Rishi Sunak’s government as having delayed compensation. She criticised ministers for failing to act on the second interim report by inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff, published in April 2023, saying inaction had “added another layer of hurt”.

Only a few months ago in December 2023, the government and the vast majority of Conservative MPs voted against an amendment to the King’s Speech, tabled by Dame Diana, to establish a compensatory body for victims of the infected blood scandal.

At the time, ministers insisted they did not want to prejudge the findings of the final report.

But now the government has committed to a vast compensation scheme — having previously only accepted the “moral case” for reparations — the reckoning set to flow looks set to be broad indeed.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Theresa May, who commissioned the Infected Blood Inquiry as prime minister, spoke of the “abject failure of the British state” with regard to the scandal. She added that, in the wake of the report, politicians and civil servants working in government must recognise that their job is “to serve the public and not to protect themselves”. Watch May’s full contribution here.

As May notes, beyond the immediate failures — notably the importation and distribution of blood products made in the US and Austria which carried a high risk of causing hepatitis — the scandal is given greater weight by the cover-up and culture of delay that followed. It is these points that are now shaping the wider view of how the British state functions, and in whose apparent interests.

In this way, parallels have naturally been drawn between the infected blood scandal and the Post Office scandal. Speaking in January, leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt stated that while the Post Office/Horizon IT scandal has been “terrible”, the infected blood scandal “is on another level”.

But as Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, pointed out this morning, the compendium of egregious state failures arguably reads far longer. Burnham told the BBC Breakfast programme: “We’ve got Hillsborough, we’ve got Grenfell, we’ve got [the Post Office scandal], we’ve got Windrush, we’ve got contaminated blood, and … one that’s not been dealt with yet, nuclear test veterans. This is a pattern that keeps on repeating”.

“I think the unelected state in Britain has too much power. It’s too easy to cover up”, he added.

One key recommendation of Sir Brian Langstaff’s report was for the government to introduce a statutory duty of candour on public authorities and officials to tell the truth and proactively cooperate with official investigations — compelling individuals to place the public interest above their, and any institution’s, reputation.

Rishi Sunak noted yesterday that “Sir Brian and his team have made wide-ranging recommendations” and committed ministers to studying them “in detail before returning to this House with a full response”.

In the meantime, Cabinet Office minister John Glen has just delivered a statement to MPs, outlining the government’s plan for a compensation scheme. Glen confirmed that the government will establish the Infected Blood Compensation Authority to administer reparations — and said the first victims of the scandal will receive their final compensation payment before the end of the year.

Those affected, Glen indicated, will receive interim payments of £210,000 within months.

Lunchtime briefing

Politicians could be prosecuted over infected blood scandal, says former Supreme Court justice

Lunchtime soundbite

‘One of the most powerful conclusions in this report is an apology is only meaningful if it is accompanied by action’

—  Shadow Cabinet Office minister Nick Thomas-Symonds responds to the details of the infected blood compensation scheme.

Now try this…

Labour “not ambitious enough” for supporters and polls will tighten, says Kinnock
“Whether that means Labour is the largest party or wins a majority, I don’t know”, Neil Kinnock tells the i. (Paywall)

UK review of protest tactics expected to stop short of banning groups
The Guardian reports.

Ken Clarke must lose peerage over infected blood, say victims
Inquiry finds former health secretary misled public in an “indefensible” way — via The Daily Telegraph. (Paywall)

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