Although the relatively simple procedure of transfusing whole blood dates back to the 1600s, fractionated plasma products such as Factor VIII and Factor IX, were a developing science over the twentieth century. The risk of infection during Factor Product infusion was well understood by the early 1970s, when imported American blood products were noted as being of higher risk than those manufactured in the UK. Even domestic UK ‘whole blood’ and related blood products carried some risk of infection, though the UK had long been self-sufficient in whole blood. Ways the risk could be mitigated included following safety policies and procedures and the speedy implementation of new scientific developments.
Nevertheless, despite the World Health Organization urging countries to become self sufficient in their blood supply in the 1970s, the UK continued to import blood products during this time and through the 1980s. Factor VIII and Factor IX were imported to the UK following the licensing of Factor VIII in 1973.
Many of the companies selling Factor VIII and Factor IX to the UK were in fact harvesting plasma from a wide variety of high risk sources, including prisoners, intravenous drug users, and cadavers. Due to the way in which Factor VIII and Factor IX were manufactured, plasma from up to 60,000 people would be combined during manufacture and only one of those people had to be infected with a blood disease to infect the whole batch.
As a result, thousands of NHS patients treated by Factor VIII and IX, primarily Haemophiliacs, became infected with Hepatitis, HIV or, in many cases, both. The risk of infection was kept from patients - both the background risk of infection from whole blood and the greatly increased risk faced by those treated with Factor VIII and Factor IX. Many patients were not told that they had been infected for years after the doctors treating them and the Government knew. Thousands of the victims of this scandal have since died.
The victims and their families are seeking answers, through both the Group Action relating to Factor VIII and IX and the Public Inquiry chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff.
As a result of contaminated Factor VIII and Factor IX, 3,891 haemophiliacs were infected with Hepatitis C whilst 1,243 also contracted HIV, in many of whom this then progressed to AIDS. At least 40 partners of infected patients were also infected due to delays and failures in informing victims. Figures show that at least 2,500 people were infected with Hepatitis via the use of whole-blood, of whom some 1,700 are still alive today.
The government's failure to act is estimated to have caused over 2,000 deaths nationwide so far. Many victims died too early to be treated with modern life-prolonging medication, without which the death toll would have been much higher. Fewer than 250 of the haemophiliacs who were "co-infected" with both Hepatitis C & HIV remain alive and they face a lifetime on medication having to cope with both a serious illness and truly shocking discrimination. Hepatitis C and HIV are life affecting, chronic diseases and no matter the source of the infection, the victims and their families are left struggling to cope.