Infected blood scandal: call for drug firms to pay part of £10bn compensation

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Global pharmaceutical firms that supplied products involved in the contaminated blood scandal face calls this weekend to foot part of the estimated £10bn compensation bill.

MPs and campaigners want the government to pursue action against drug firms that to date have not paid any compensation in the UK. Their products were contaminated with viruses, including HIV and hepatitis C.

The official inquiry by Sir Brian Langstaff concluded the pharmaceutical industry’s contaminated product manufactured by subsidiaries of Bayer, Baxter and other drug groups to treat haemophilia did not contain adequate warnings and should never have been licensed.

Diana Johnson, the Labour MP and the chair of all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, said: “The pharmaceutical companies need to apologise and there needs to be a claim against them for some of this money.”

Johnson said claimants in other countries had been given payouts of hundreds of millions of pounds and it was “outrageous” similar payments had not been made in the UK. The government has set out details on the infected blood compensation scheme, with payments to victims of up to £2,735,000.

MP Diana Johnson addresses campaigners in London before the publication of the inquiry report into the scandal.View image in fullscreen

About 3,000 people died and 30,000 were infected after being given contaminated blood transfusions and products in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the deaths were caused by commercial blood products given to people suffering from haemophilia to replace a clotting protein called factor VIII.

In March 1996 in Japan, drug firm executives involved in the global blood scandal were pictured in newspapers bowing on their knees to haemophiliacs who had filed lawsuits that led to a settlement. The firms, including subsidiaries of drug giants Bayer and Baxter, agreed to pay 60% of a settlement worth up to $810m, with payments of $450,000 for each person infected with HIV.

In the US, drug firms, including Bayer, Baxter and Armour, accused of selling infected product agreed a $640m settlement for haemophiliacs in August 1996. These drug firms and others were also required to contribute to a settlement package established in Germany in July 1995.

The prospects of pharmaceutical firms agreeing similar payouts to victims in the UK were undermined by the insistence for years by ministers and officials that patients were given the “best available treatment”. Langstaff found this claim was wrong and the treatment disaster could largely have been avoided.

Jason Evans, founder of the Factor 8 campaign group, whose father, Jonathan, died in October 1993 after being infected with HIV and hepatitis C from a contaminated blood product, said it was a “key finding” that the commercial blood products should never have been licensed.

“The apology on behalf of the state will be welcome,” he said. “Something else the community would like to see is proper apology from all of the pharmaceutical companies.”

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Until now, the drug firms have not apologised for nor acknowledged any mistakes in the supply chain to the UK which led to the scandal. They have said they complied with all relevant regulations at the time. The inquiry report found drug firms did warn that their products may contain viruses, but did not adequately warn of the risk of HIV and hepatitis C. Some firms, including Bayer and Baxter subsidiaries, also used blood plasma from prisoners, a population at high risk of infection.

In December 1982, an executive at Cutter Laboratories, then a Bayer subsidiary, wrote a memo stating: “It appears advisable to include an Aids warning in our literature for Factor VIII.” The inquiry found that the earliest product warning it was able to identify was in March 1984.

Sam Roddick, the daughter of the Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, who died from a brain haemorrhage, a rare complication of hepatitis C which she believed was from a contaminated blood transfusion, said the public should not foot the compensation bill: “I think it should be the corporations that pay. It should be a really high level. It needs to hurt and it needs to hurt the right people.”

Bayer said it had fully cooperated with the infected blood inquiry. It said in a statement: “We have been profoundly moved by the accounts of those who have been infected and affected by this tragedy. We are truly sorry that the haemophilia treatments developed by Cutter, intended to save and improve lives, ended up causing so much suffering.”

Baxter said it had spun off its bioscience business, including the blood products portfolio, in 2015. The company said: “We sincerely sympathise with anyone impacted by infected blood in the 1970s and 1980s.”

CSL Behring, which acquired Armour’s manufacturing facilities in 2004, said it was not in a position to comment on Armour’s historical activities.


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