Former prime minister Sir John Major has described the contaminated blood scandal as “incredibly bad luck”, drawing gasps from families watching him give evidence under oath to the public inquiry into the disaster.
Up to 30,000 people contracted HIV and hepatitis C in the 1970s and 80s after being given a treatment on the NHS.
Thousands have since died.
Sir John is being questioned about the government’s actions, including decisions on financial compensation.
Questions have been asked about what the government knew about the risks of the blood treatments, and whether patients were given sufficient warning.
The public inquiry into the scandal, chaired by former judge Sir Brian Langstaff, started taking evidence in April 2019 with hearings in Belfast, Leeds, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. It is expected to publish its final report in mid-2023.
It has been called the biggest treatment disaster in NHS history and was the result of a new treatment intended to make lives better.
Factor VIII was a therapy designed to help blood clot. It was imported from the United States where it was distilled from the pooled blood of thousands of individuals, including prisoners, who were often paid to donate.
People with haemophilia, including many young children, were infected, along with others who were given treatment.
Dame Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop chain and human rights activist, contracted hepatitis C in 1971 after being given a blood transfusion during childbirth. She died in 2007 of a brain haemorrhage linked to the disease.
Campaigners say those infected decades ago are now dying at the rate of one every four days as a result.
Giving evidence, Sir John described the effects of the scandal on victims as a “horror”, adding: “There’s no amount of compensation you can give that can actually compensate for what had happened to them.
“What had happened to them was incredibly bad luck – awful – and it was not something that anybody was unsympathetic to.”
The UK-wide inquiry was launched after years of campaigning by victims, who claim the risks were never explained and that the scandal was covered up.
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