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Apologies to victims of ‘the greatest scandal in the history of the NHS’

WALES’ health secretary apologised to victims of the contaminated blood scandal, describing it as the greatest treatment scandal in the history of the health service.

Leading a Senedd debate on the infected blood inquiry, Eluned Morgan said the Welsh Government has started work to consider Sir Brian Langstaff’s recommendations.

More than 30,000 people in the UK were infected with HIV or hepatitis C by contaminated blood between 1970 and 1991, with more than 3,000 people dying as a result.

She said: “We must do better than the denials, the false reassurances, the complacency, the cover-ups, the obfuscations and the repeated failures at an individual, institutional and government level that characterised and compounded this awful tragedy.”

Although the scandal predates devolution by decades, Baroness Morgan apologised to all those who were infected with tainted blood or have been affected by the disaster.

Mabon ap Gwynfor told the chamber Sir Brian’s report was an “utterly damning indictment of an entrenched culture of institutional abuse, governmental neglect and political obfuscation”.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow health secretary hoped the report would prove a watershed moment in addressing an imbalance of power at the heart of the criminal justice system.

He said: “From the Hillsborough disaster to the Post Office Horizon scandal, the wheels of justice can often turn far too slowly when it comes to the misdemeanours of the wealthy.”

Sam Rowlands, his Conservative counterpart, described the infected blood scandal as one of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice in British history.

He welcomed the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which will create an arm’s-length body to administer compensation to victims, passing through Parliament pre-general election.

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Julie Morgan, who has campaigned on the issue for decades as an MS and an MP for Cardiff North, paid tribute to those who had their lives incomprehensibly turned upside down.

She said: “When haemophilia patients were told about their HIV diagnosis, it was a terrifying ordeal – a death sentence, with life-expectancy estimates of between two and five years.

“The stigma was horrendous and the majority of patients kept their status secret.”

Stressing the importance of implementing the recommendations, Ms Morgan warned many people are worried about false hope because it has taken 40 years to get to this point.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, who chairs the Senedd’s cross-party group on haemophilia and infected blood, agreed that the fight for justice must continue.

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative MS for North Wales, said the five-year inquiry found infected blood was not an accident and was avoidable.

He said: “Contaminated blood has had and continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of thousands of infected people and their families.”

John Griffiths, a Labour backbencher, who has represented Newport East since 1999, joined other members in paying tribute to campaigner Lynne Kelly, who chairs Haemophilia Wales.

Highlighting the stigma around HIV/AIDS at the time, he said the family home of Colin John Smith, who died aged seven weighing only 13lb, was daubed with abuse and graffiti.

Mr Griffiths told the chamber: “It was a terrible scandal and indictment of the systems at the time – and so many families suffered in the way that these families did.”

Plaid Cymru’s Sioned Williams raised the concerns of two sisters from the Swansea valley, whose father Arwyn Davies died in 1992 due to the “appalling, unforgivable” scandal.

She said: “To date, children who lost parents, like Rhian and Sharon, have never been provided with compensation or recognition of their father’s death. They haven’t even received a letter of apology from their local health board.”

Hefin David, who is vice-chair of the cross-party group, paid tribute to campaigners in his constituency, including Nicholas Moran, Susan Hughes, Janet Morgan, and Kirk Ellis.

Wearing a tie in the campaign’s colours, the Labour MS for Caerphilly raised Mr Ellis’ concerns about the UK Government’s proposed lump-sum compensation scheme.

Dr David said: “He points out that in Scotland the Scottish Government has guaranteed that ongoing current support payments are for life, as well as the lump-sum compensation payments proposed by the UK Government in response to Sir Brian’s report.”

Outside the Senedd, Dr David said: “It has taken us a long time to get to where we are today, and it is a tribute to the hard work of campaigners and all those who have been affected by this scandal, whether directly or indirectly. 

“The role of my constituents who have regularly contacted me about this issue over the years cannot be understated.

“I have done a lot of work with Kirk Ellis in particular, who is from Caerphilly. These residents wanted me to tell their story of how the infected blood scandal affected them and their loved ones, but they also want to raise concerns about how the UK Government could implement a proposed compensation scheme going forward”.

Dr David highlighted the need for the UK Government to work with the Welsh Government and implement the report’s recommendations “in full and without delay”.

Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher said Debroah James, a constituent from Bridgend, has fought for 42 years to uncover the truth of the death of her brother, who was a police officer.

He said: “People in positions of authority vilified these families for raising concerns, accused them of lying, accused them of giving life to rumours. Corruption is the long and short of it, isn’t it – a bid to save money. What an indictment of our system.”

Labour backbencher Jenny Rathbone agreed that it is more than a treatment scandal, saying: “This is about a criminal cover-up.”

The Cardiff Central MS backed Sir Brian’s calls for a legal duty of candour for civil servants and ministers to ensure they are not “continuing to be less than candid with the truth”.

Acknowledging concerns about unrecognised cases, Baroness Morgan said part of the issue is problems with NHS records that are required to make compensation claims.

She said the Welsh Government has established a new infected blood inquiry group, chaired by Push Mangat, the new deputy chief medical officer, to consider the next steps.

She explained: “It will work with health boards, the Welsh Blood Service, Public Health Wales and policy officials to ensure we look at the wrongs of the past and work together to ensure this can never happen again.”

Closing the debate on June 4, Baroness Morgan said: “Tonight I think we unite as a chamber and as a parliament, and I’m sure you’ll join with me to pay tribute to those who have suffered as a result of this – the greatest scandal in the history of the NHS.”

MSs unanimously supported the Welsh Government motion and Plaid Cymru amendments.

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