The scale of it simply beggars belief. Thousands of lives affected by HIV and hepatitis C-contaminated blood – some suggest 7500 people in Britain, of whom 2000 have died – each with family and friends whose lives, too, are sucked into a medical horror story.
Bad enough. But what is equally staggering, is that it has taken 30 years for what we hope is the truth to finally come out.
Tomorrow the £12m Penrose Inquiry will unveil its findings into the scandal of contaminated blood in Scotland.
The six-year wait for Lord Penrose to hear evidence and reach a conclusion is only the most recent instalment in this tragedy. Its roots stretch back to the mid-1980s when worried patients with pertinent questions to ask were pushed aside, their pleas for information and answers as to “why” left unheard.
One haemophiliac who received HIV-infected blood told me how the general response from medical professionals he encountered was along the lines of “Oh well, you’ll be dead soon”. No wonder he went on to live a tortured and lonely life under the shadow of death, shunning loved ones in the hope of protecting them from being sucked into his nightmare, tormented by the fear that in the seven years between being infected and being told about it by his consultant, he may have unknowingly infected someone else.
The scars of this disaster – which is what Bill Wright, chairman of Haemophilia Scotland calls it – run deep. And, sadly, they have been left to fester for far too long as those who could have moved faster to end the misery dithered and delayed. Indeed, so long that some of those worst affected have not survived long enough to see some kind of justice done.
Who knows what might have happened if a few sick people whose lives were already a struggle thanks to infected blood, had not pushed against the tide of reluctance to force for a full inquiry?
Robert Mackie received blood contaminated with hepatitis C in 1983. A year later he was given blood tainted by HIV at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. A leading campaigner in the fight for an inquiry, he is now so poorly that it’s unlikely he will be present to hear tomorrow’s findings.
From thalidomide to Hillsborough and the case last week of a mum who battled 16 years against medical authorities to prove damage to her baby as she gave birth, ordinary people in awful situations seem to have to fight every step of the way.
The government is this week expected to apologise for the contaminated blood scandal, acknowledging official failures and confirming compensation payments.
Perhaps, though, the greatest step forward would be a commitment that those seeking answers – and the truth – should never again have to wait so long for justice.