UK Infected Blood Inquiry - final report: First Minister's response - 21 May 2024

First Minister John Swinney's statement to Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 21 May  2024.

Presiding Officer,

I am confident that I speak for every Member in this Parliament when I welcome the publication yesterday of the Infected Blood Inquiry’s final report.

I offer my sincerest thanks to the Inquiry Chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, and all of the Inquiry team, for their diligence, and their pursuit of truth, in producing such a comprehensive final document.

Our focus should now be firmly on all those who have been infected, their families, and the organisations that support them, and I want to pay tribute to all of them.

Those infected and impacted by this tragedy have worked tirelessly to ensure that its effect, and their suffering, is not ignored.

It is a disgrace that those who have been affected have had to work so hard to secure the outcome that was achieved yesterday.

The fact that they had to work so hard and for so long is an utter condemnation of those who have put obstacles in the way of the truth being revealed.

The report’s headline findings make damning reading for governments, the NHS, and others responsible for patient safety across the United Kingdom during this scandal.

As Sir Brian makes clear in the report, the situation that unfolded across the United Kingdom came about due to “systemic, collective, and individual failures’, and exposed patients to ‘unacceptable risks’.

The failure of authorities to ‘deal ethically, appropriately, and quickly with the infections when the risk materialised, and with the consequences for thousands of families’ is an accusation which should cause both shame and reflection.  

The allegations of ‘deception’ and of ‘hiding the truth’ are deeply alarming, as are those that describe patients as being ‘kept in the dark’ about their own health.

And the numbers of people impacted by these failures are truly harrowing.

More than 30,000 people across the United Kingdom were infected by contaminated blood products and transfusions between 1970 and 1991 - with around 3,000 of those here in Scotland.  

These are not just numbers on a page. That is 3,000 families in Scotland who have faced decades of unnecessary heartbreak and pain.

3,000 families who have had their "lives, dreams, friendships, families and finances" destroyed as the report makes clear.

The report states that governments and the health service failed both those with bleeding disorders, and those who were transfused.

The tragic results of these failures were deaths, illness and unimaginable suffering.

And the harms done to those infected and affected were compounded by repeated failures to acknowledge that they should not have been infected, and repeated failures to offer any meaningful apology and redress.

Indeed, the fact that it has taken four to five decades to get to this point, is a failure that the Prime Minister described yesterday as a point of national shame.

Presiding Officer, in March 2015 my colleague and the former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Scottish Government to everyone who had been infected or affected as a result of the NHS blood or blood products scandal in Scotland.

The Public Health Minister, Jenni Minto, who attended the launch of the inquiry report in London, apologised to victims yesterday.

Today, in the light of the final report from the Inquiry, on behalf of the Scottish Government, and as First Minister of Scotland, I apologise unreservedly to everyone who has been affected in any way by these events.

To everyone who has been affected, I want to say that you have been failed by the organisations and processes that should have been in place to protect and support you, and I am sorry for the hurt, worry and damage that you have suffered.

I acknowledge, and welcome, the apology issued by the Prime Minister yesterday on behalf of the United Kingdom Government.

This was, rightly, a fulsome apology. But not only that, the Prime Minister’s statement also contained two solemn promises. First, that comprehensive compensation would be paid to both the infected and affected. And second that a fundamental rebalancing of the system will be required in any consideration of the report’s recommendations.

On the first point, the Scottish Government will work collaboratively with the United Kingdom Government to put that into effect. On the second, the Scottish Government will take the necessary steps within our own responsibilities to make that happen.

Presiding Officer, when I was elected as the Member of Parliament for North Tayside in 1997, one of the first constituents who came to see me was Bill Wright.

Bill contracted Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products. He has faced – and continues to face - acute health challenges as a result of this treatment. It has had an overwhelming effect on his life and the family who love him.

But despite this intense level of suffering, Bill – with enormous dignity - has campaigned tirelessly for justice on behalf of Haemophilia Scotland to secure justice for those who have been affected.

On top of his campaigning, Bill has also been a valued member of the Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme Advisory Board, and has also contributed his expertise and wisdom in a number of other areas to help advocate for better care for haemophilia and other bleeding disorder patients across Scotland.   

Without the leadership and unrelenting work from individuals like Bill, this report would not have happened. This truth would not have been exposed. This justice would never have been secured.

Having walked on this journey with my constituent Bill Wright for these last 27 years, I am humbled that he is now able to hear, directly from his local Member of Parliament, now this country’s First Minister, the direct and unreserved apology from Government for the suffering that he has endured.

There are countless others who deserve recognition for their campaigning and work on this issue – including the Scottish Infected Blood Forum and many individual campaigners.

So to all of those who have worked so hard to make this report happen, and to seek justice for those impacted by this tragedy, I express my heartfelt thanks, my admiration, and my appreciation for the tenacity they have demonstrated in getting to this point.

People who were infected with HIV or hepatitis as a result of NHS treatment have endured unimaginable suffering. I know that this report will not change what has happened nor will it bring back those loved ones who have been lost nor will it repair the lost moments of life that could have been.

I do hope, however, that it is a step forward in the journey towards a semblance of justice and offers a sense of peace in their lives.   

The Scottish Government will carefully consider the Inquiry’s report in full, and all of the recommendations for Scotland. In doing so, we will be able to build on the work already done with victims since the earlier Scottish Penrose Inquiry into infected blood. We will do so as quickly as we can because the infected and affected communities have already waited far too long to see action.

The Scottish Government has already accepted the moral case for compensation for infected blood victims, and we are very much committed to working with the UK Government to ensure any compensation scheme works as well as possible for those who are infected or affected.

Compensation for victims of infected blood is long overdue, and for that reason it is welcome that the recent amendments to the UK Victims and Prisoners Bill will ensure those in Scotland have access to the scheme on the same basis as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The UK Government’s announcement of today of further details of the compensation scheme is another step towards ensuring those infected and their bereaved relatives in Scotland receive compensation as soon as possible.

I welcome the Minister for the Cabinet Office’s confirmation that Sir Robert Francis – who developed a proposed compensation framework for the Cabinet Office back in 2022 – will act as interim Chair of the new Infected Blood Compensation Authority. I am aware  that the victims trust him to do right by them.

I would urge the UK Government to implement the Victim and Prisoners Bill as quickly as possible, because I know how important it is that all those affected are able to access compensation as soon as possible.

I also welcome the confirmation of further interim payments firstly of £210,000 each to infected people and secondly of £100,000 to each of the estates of victims who have sadly died.

The Scottish Government will work with the UK Government and the Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme to ensure these payments can be made as soon as possible.

The Scottish Government is now working, along with charities representing the infected and affected, to consider the recommendations from the report for Scotland and to address its implications.

We are steadfastly committed to using the Inquiry’s report to ensure that lessons have been learned, and that such a tragedy can never happen again.

It is why I want to reassure all those who have been impacted, and the general public, that lessons have already been learned, and significant and widespread improvements in patient safety have been made.

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service now has extremely high standards of blood safety, and I would continue to encourage anyone who can do so to give blood, as this remains essential for thousands of patients.

All donated blood in Scotland is now tested for a range of viruses, including hepatitis and HIV, before it is distributed to hospitals.

But there is also another important lesson that must be learned. It is a lesson about the culture that we must expect in our public services. That culture must be of the highest standards, a culture of openness, a culture of transparency, a culture where patient safety is paramount. That is the culture I will insist upon in our public services.

Presiding Officer, I think perhaps the most striking, and indeed disturbing, statement from Sir Brian in the report is this:

"This disaster was not an accident. The infections happened because those in authority - doctors, the blood services and successive governments - did not put patient safety first."

That is something that must never ever happen.

It has taken over 50 years to get to this point. I will do everything in my power to ensure we learn the lessons from this report, from the infected blood scandal, and take all necessary steps so that no one else has to endure the heartbreak and the suffering that so many families have had to face.  

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