Contaminated blood scandal: Edinburgh mum says son’s cause of death was ‘obscured’

An Edinburgh mother whose son died after being infected by HIV while being treated for haemophilia believes doctors tried to “obscure” his cause of death, an inquiry heard yesterday.

Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 8:01 pm
Alistair Bennett, who died aged 22 having contracted Aids after being given blood products to treat haemophilia.
Alistair Bennett, who died aged 22 having contracted Aids after being given blood products to treat haemophilia.

Alison Bennett said her son Alistair’s death was recorded as blood poisoning and bronchopneumonia with a secondary cause of haemophilia.

She said: “To my mind that is trying to obscure the fact that the main cause of death was HIV/Aids.”

She believes the doctors who signed off the death certificate were “being pressured” not to reveal the cause.

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She said: “I can’t prove that but that’s my gut feeling, that there was a genuine attempt to obscure what happened.”

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C via contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, and around 2,400 people died.

The scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

Giving evidence at the Infected Blood Inquiry at its first day of hearings in the Capital, Mrs Bennett said she believed her son’s blood tests in the early 1980s were “routine” and linked to his haemophilia until she received a hospital letter in 1985 saying he had tested positive for being exposed to the Aids virus.

The letter said of the 16 patients tested by then nearly 60 per cent had tested positive and nearly all of them have been treated with American factor VIII.

When she told her son, aged 14, she said he was “very angry”.

She and her son were both diagnosed with hepatitis C, which she believed came from the same source, “the infected blood product”.

Ms Bennett said Alistair attended Newcastle University but became progressively more ill and died in hospital in Liverpool aged 22.

Ms Bennett, a former anaesthetist, said she knew of the dangers that pooled plasma as used in Factor VIII from the late 1960s and early 1970s significantly increased the risk of virus infections.

She said: “I knew this from my medical training. I cannot understand how the NHS sanctioned the purchase of American Factor VIII and denied there was increased risk.”

A witness, who gave evidence anonymously, said he had attempted to take his own life after losing his partner and job having been diagnosed with hepatitis C, years after being given a blood transfusion following a lorry crash as a teenager.

The inquiry also heard from Thomas Griffiths, who was not told he had hepatitis C which was likely linked to infected blood products until nine years after being diagnosed has told an inquiry there was a “coalition of secrecy” around the scandal.

Mr Griffiths, 75, said more “honesty” could have led to better treatments and saved many lives.

He said: “It was causing me concern having to come in for a product which was thought to be not entirely safe.”

The inquiry, before former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff, continues.