'This is the worst tragedy in the history of the NHS' - victim speaks as contaminate blood inquiry begins

A public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal started today. Picture: PA.
A public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal started today. Picture: PA.

The contaminated blood scandal is the worst tragedy to hit the NHS - and those responsible need to be held accountable for their actions and prosecuted, a victim has said.

A public inquiry will consider the treatment of thousands of people in the 1970s and 1980s who were given blood products infected with hepatitis viruses and HIV, and the impact this has had.

Victim Michelle Tolley spoke as the probe into the deaths of more than 2,400 people who were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C as a result of the scandal began in London on Monday.

"Anyone who may be responsible... they need to be held accountable and prosecuted if needs be - I strongly believe that," the mother-of-four told the Press Association.

"People need to know that this tragedy happened," she said. "This is the worst tragedy in the history of the NHS and it must never ever happen again, absolutely never."

The 53-year-old was infected following a blood transfusion after the birth of her child in 1987 and another in 1991 - she eventually found out in 2015 that she had Hepatitis C.

Describing how she wakes up every day feeling as though she is "waiting to die", she said she thought the start of the inquiry is a day that would never come, and worries she might not see it end.

Read more: Contaminated blood inquiry is 'a day few thought would see come'

Feeling "very positive" about the inquiry and that prosecutions could be achieved, she added: "I have great, great faith that they will leave no stone unturned."

Sir Brian Langstaff, chairman of the inquiry, previously said the probe would examine whether there had been an attempt to cover up the scandal, and has promised a "thorough examination of the evidence".

Ms Tolley from Sparham, Norfolk, said the scandal has stolen her life, and that she fears a liver scan next month may reveal she has cancer.

"I feel we have been given a death sentence without committing any crime. I have got a death sentence hanging over my head," she said

"My future has been lost, my last 31 years have been cruelly snatched away from me.

"It has a knock-on effect to the affected people - my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my colleagues - that ripple effect really is much wider.

"We need the general public to know and understand exactly what has happened and why it happened."

Anthony Farrugia said a whole generation of haemophiliacs in his family has been wiped out as a result of the scandal - his father died of Aids, and he also lost two uncles.

"It is important in that the public are going to be finding out what we have been through," the 46-year-old from St Neots, Cambridge, said.

"I am thrilled that we are getting this opportunity today to flood the news channels, which we have not had before.

"I think this is the loudest our voice has ever been, and obviously this is only the start of it."

The beginning of the Infected Blood Inquiry, which is expected to last at least two-and-a-half years, began with a commemoration to the victims.

Images of individuals and private family moments to the music of Read All About it by Emeli Sande filled the large screen, alongside more than half an hour of video testimonies.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced in July last year that an inquiry would be held into the events over the two decades, when thousands of haemophiliacs and other patients in the UK were given infected blood products.

The announcement was welcomed at the time by campaigners, who have been pressing for years for an inquiry into the import of the clotting agent Factor VIII from the US.

Much of the plasma used to make the product came from donors such as prison inmates, who sold blood which turned out to be infected.

At the hearing, there were also readings by Downton Abbey actor David Robb and actress Isla Blair who through a segment called "this is what we know", spelt out the figures, facts and impact.

Robb told those gathered for the opening of the probe that it started with the haemophiliacs, many of whom were still schoolboys.

"Factor VIII seemed like a miracle - stopping bleeds quickly and even preventing them. This wonder drug let boys be boys, play football, climb trees, mess around, fight and do all the stuff teenagers do," he said.

"It wasn't only teenage boys, boys much younger were also treated with Factor VIII.

"Factor VIII was made by the pooling together of plasma from thousands of blood donations. If one donor had an infection, the entire batch would be contaminated.

According to the terms of reference, which were published in July, the inquiry will consider "whether there have been attempts to conceal details of what happened" through the destruction of documents or withholding of information.

It will also consider if those attempts were deliberate and if "there has been a lack of openness or candour" in the response of the Government, NHS bodies and other officials to those affected.