Sunak apologises to infected blood scandal victims on ‘day of shame’ for the British state

Final compensation bill for victims of infected blood products expected to top £10bn

Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak admitted Monday was a “day of shame for the British state” as he promised to pay whatever it cost to fully compensate thousands of UK victims of infected blood products provided by the National Health Service (NHS), with the final bill expected to top £10 billion.

Mr Sunak addressed the House of Commons to offer a “wholehearted apology” to the roughly 30,000 victims who contracted illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis C between 1970 and 1991 and their families following the publication of the final report of a public inquiry into the scandal.

The inquiry, led by former judge Brian Langstaff, found that the British state had engaged in a widespread cover-up of the issue, which is now widely seen as the biggest scandal in the history of the NHS.

The former judge found that officials from the civil service to the NHS to politicians in successive UK governments had failed the victims and their families, ignored warnings and repeatedly misled the British public.


The seven-year inquiry’s findings also included that official documents had been destroyed as part of the cover-up, that NHS doctors had hidden the risks from patients, and experimental blood products had been provided recklessly to children.

The former judge also found Mr Sunak’s government had “perpetuated the injustice” by failing to make interim compensation payouts following a recommendation from the inquiry two years ago.

Up to 1,000 family members of victims, including the estimated 3,000 who died of disease after being infected, gathered in Central Hall in Westminster a couple of minutes’ walk from the Houses of Parliament for the release of the Langstaff inquiry’s final report shortly after noon.

The former judge delivered a powerful statement in which he lambasted the British medical and political establishment for a “catalogue of failures”.

The inquiry found that many of those who were infected had received transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s of blood imported from the US, where sex workers, prisoners and drug addicts were among people who were paid to make donations. This so-called “ooze for booze” approach to pay donors was known to be risky from the mid-1970s yet the NHS kept using such products.

Five hours after the release of the report Mr Sunak addressed a hushed House of Commons to acknowledge that there had been a cover-up. “I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology to victims. This is a day of shame for the British state,” he said.

The prime minister said his government would authorise compensation whatever the final bill. Representatives of victims and their families said they wanted to see action and not just apologies.

Labour leader Keir Starmer also apologised to victims on behalf of the Labour Party, which was in government for much of the cover-up.

“Politics itself failed you,” he told victims and families. “That includes my own party. There is only one word – sorry,” said Mr Starmer.

Andy Evans, chairman of the Tainted Blood campaign group, said victims had been “gaslit for generations” but the Langstaff report put an end to that.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times