If the inquiry delves deep enough and reveals the full scope of this appalling scandal, exposing the betrayals and lies the haemophiliac community have endured for decades, it will cause even more distress. Meanwhile, day to day, I live in a state of unce
On September 24, the first full UK-wide public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, opened officially in The Church House in London. In his opening statement, the retired judge assured those present that his inquiry will be frightened of no one and that those infected and affected would be placed at its heart. It was also an occasion to remember those who have died including the almost 3,000 haemophiliacs infected by contaminated blood products (known as Factor VIII or IX) with viruses including HIV/Aids, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. All of which have irrevocably damaged the health of an entire generation of UK haemophiliacs who received routine NHS treatments in the 1970s and 80s. The hundreds present, the bereaved and walking wounded came from across the country. We met surviving victims from across Kent - Ramsgate, Whitstable, Maidstone and Ashford. That the inquiry has taken well over 30 years to be established and was only conceded as the result of Parliamentary pressure on Theresa May after she lost her majority, leaves a bitter sweet taste. After so many decades we had questions, rather than hopes or expectations. Will the inquiry have the tenacity to answer the very simple question “why?”. Will it have the courage to hold those responsible to account? Or, as Jason Wade, a haemophiliac and victim of this scandal now buried in Margate, implored his brother Ade days before he died – “get the bastards who did this”. Jason died on September 28, 1997 at 3.16am. He was just 28. The inquiry, it is suggested, will take between two to four years to reach its conclusions. Another question Sir Brian referred to in his opening statements is how many of we, the primary victims, will be alive to see the final report and its recommendations? Already more than 70 haemophiliacs have died since the announcement of this inquiry last July. What can be expected of the concluding report? A question I contemplate with some trepidation. If the inquiry delves deep enough and reveals the full scope of this appalling scandal, exposing the betrayals and lies the haemophiliac community have endured for decades, it will cause even more distress. Meanwhile, day to day, I live in a state of uncertainty and fear. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which attacks the liver causing, eventually, cirrhosis and cancer. Until August 2015 there was no effective treatment. Then new medication was made available selectively. If I still received my specialist treatment at our local hospital, I would not have had access to the new drugs. Having previously felt obliged to transfer my care to London, my hepatitis C was eradicated after a three-month course of anti-viral drugs. But after been infected through contaminated Factor VIII, almost certainly on multiple occasions and decades ago, the complications for my health are considerable and life-long. At the end of the treatment, liver cancer was diagnosed. Although it was successfully treated, I now live under the shadow of it returning and then facing the prospect of a transplant. One consequence of cirrhosis is portal hypertension which causes massive internal bleeding and for a haemophiliac, results in vomiting copious amounts of blood. On the last occasion in June after a fortnight as an in-patient at Margate’s QEQM Hospital, I almost became part of the statistic of those who haven’t lived to see the opening of the inquiry. One of the rare side effects of the new anti-virals is neural sensory hearing loss. I am now slowly and irrevocably losing my hearing and due to portal hypertension I have been suffering from severe anaemia. We made it to London on September 24 to listen to the two opening statements. My wife of 40 years has been with me every step of the way. We have been active campaigners since 2015. Because of my health care problems, we have been unable to participate in the run up to the opening of the inquiry as planned. We missed important meetings and could not remain for the second and third day to hear all the opening statements. It has been announced that the hearings will resume on April 30, 2019. The one consolation with this further delay is I can hope to have recovered enough health and strength to participate fully. We have to believe that I will still be amongst the survivors, along with Jason’s brother Ade, and others in the infected community from across the county, many of whom we have never met. And that we will still be there when a brother’s promise is finally kept.