Blog: Day 3 of the Infected Blood Inquiry Preliminary Hearings

Day 3 (Wednesday 26th September 2018) was the final day of preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry at Church House in Westminster, London. We heard Opening Statements from the core representatives and government groups represented by their legal teams. Samantha May, from The Hepatitis C Trust, also contributed to today’s proceedings.  

The afternoon session was opened by The Hepatitis C Trust, highlighting our ongoing support for those who received infected blood and their family and friends. Samantha spoke about some of the common themes of calls to The Hepatitis C Trust's helpline, including the problems people have had in accessing their medical records and the long delay many people experienced between receiving infected blood and being diagnosed with hepatitis C. Samantha highlighted the importance of anyone who received a blood transfusion before 1991 getting tested for hepatitis C. 

Earlier in the day, we also heard similar demands from unrepresented core participants who had been infected and affected by hepatitis C, and other illnesses, as a result of infected blood products. For example, Ms Challis (an unrepresented core participant) called for a greater understanding of the virus and said: “I would like to see the NHS testing every single person for hepatitis C, and then quickly treating those who test positive. This is the only way we can find them all.”

On behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Eleanor Grey QC, issued an apology and promised to listen and reflect on the demands of the Inquiry. She promised that DHSC is present as a core participant in order to assist the Terms of Reference with candour, openness and with a willingness to investigate allegations of “cover-ups” within the NHS. She acknowledged the huge distrust that has arisen towards government bodies and senior health professionals within the NHS as a result of the infected blood scandal.  

Charlie Cory Wright QC, representing the NHS Blood and Transplant, also issued an apology. He acknowledged how those affected by the scandal were “entitled to know the truth”. Wright explained how the NHS Blood and Transplant department is an independent service that provides blood and transplantation products to the NHS. He clarified that predecessor bodies do not exist anymore and therefore, it is the role of the NHS Blood and Transplant department to cooperate in full and locate all relevant documents for the Inquiry. We also heard from Simon Bowie QC for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, which is part of NHS Scotland, and who also previously contributed to the Penrose Inquiry. Debra Powell QC, for the Welsh Blood Service, also made a supporting statement. 

In the morning, Steven Snowden QC (instructed by Collins Solicitors), on behalf of 656 individual core participants and Factor 8, and representing the largest cohort in these preliminary hearings, told the Inquiry that one of their main responsibilities, and indeed difficulties, will be to obtain all relevant documents. He said the Cabinet Office and Treasury were failing to support individuals with legitimate document requests. He recommended that the Inquiry make all health trusts aware of the Terms of Reference. Steven Snowden QC, also raised his concerns regarding the five pharmaceutical companies involved in the distribution of blood products at the time, and the responsibility they have to provide all relevant documentation. He said it was important for the Inquiry to understand issues of self-sufficiency in regard to blood products, now run by NHS Blood and Transplant. 

Sir Brian Langstaff QC, as Chair to the Inquiry, concluded that the preliminary hearings had successfully made the scandal visible. He said these three days had given the Inquiry Team a lot to think about and that the hard work will continue until the job is done. Sir Brian made an important final appeal, calling for any further witnesses to come forward and provide a statement to the Inquiry.