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Theresa May: Infected Blood Inquiry highlights ‘abject failure’ of British state

Former prime minister Theresa May (Hannah McKay/PA)
Former prime minister Theresa May (Hannah McKay/PA)

Theresa May has insisted Government officials must “serve the public and not protect themselves” after the Infected Blood Inquiry highlighted an “abject failure” of the British state.

Conservative MP Mrs May ordered the inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal while she was prime minister in 2017, saying at the time it was an “appalling tragedy which should simply never have happened”.

More than 30,000 people were infected with deadly viruses while they were receiving NHS care between the 1970s and 1990s.

Speaking on Monday, Mrs May told the Commons: “Sir Brian Langstaff’s report today has finally uncovered the truth of this appalling tragedy which has affected the lives of so many, and so many have been fighting, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said, for decades to get to this point.

“Sir Brian has highlighted what is a devastating and abject failure of the British state.

“Medical professionals, civil servants, politicians – all of whom felt their job was to protect their own reputation rather than to serve and look after the public who they were there to serve.

“As we rightly today remember all the victims of this terrible tragedy, will (Rishi Sunak) commit himself unashamedly to working to ensure that all those in Government – politicians and civil servants – recognise that their job is to serve the public and not to protect themselves?”

Prime Minister Mr Sunak said the Government will “study every single one” of the inquiry’s recommendations in detail and “work urgently across government and public organisations” to ensure “nothing like this can ever happen again”.

He added: “But also that we end the challenges that she encountered, where the institutions responsible for serving the public, including the NHS and civil service, are more concerned by cost than accountability.”

Estimated UK deaths attributable to infected blood or blood products 1970-2019
(PA Graphics)

Conservative former health secretary Sir Sajid Javid said the infected blood scandal is “the biggest in the history of the NHS” and accused public servants of “putting the reputation of themselves and the NHS above that of patient safety and care”.

He added: “Time and time again ministers have stood at that despatch box, under successive governments, including myself, promising that lessons will be learned. So can I ask (Mr Sunak) why will it be any different this time?”

Mr Sunak replied: “Sir Brian’s report is categoric that this scandal represents a decade-long moral failure of the state.

“But in particular, he highlights an appalling truth, that our National Health Service failed.

“It was known that blood and blood products given by medical professionals were contaminated.

“It is correct to acknowledge that medical practice has evolved.

“Every day hundreds of thousands of our NHS staff do provide lifesaving care to the British people and we are incredibly grateful, but the report today sets out clear and wide-ranging recommendations that we must study closely and we will work urgently with our health services to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again.”

Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House, earlier said Whitehall department chiefs need to say to everyone throughout their chain: “Are we doing something which is right, are we doing something that is necessary, are we doing something that will work?”

Sir Peter suggested such an approach would have ensured “we would have learnt the truth earlier”.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said: “This scandal represents the very worst of Westminster. Decades of deflection, decades of denial and of course decades of deceit.”

Mr Flynn, in remarks to the victims, said: “First is an apology. I’m incredibly sorry that this happened to you.

“Second is to say quite openly thank you. Thank you for your determination and your desire, for being able to pry open the doors of this place and ensure that your voices were heard by all of us. We would not be here today without your efforts.

“And thirdly it’s to say to the victims that I can assure you we will do everything we can to ensure that the Government implements the recommendations as laid out today.”

He said the SNP will work with Mr Sunak and future governments to ensure the compensation “promise is swiftly kept”.

Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, a long-time campaigner on the scandal, said the Government’s failure to provide compensation payments to victims following an interim report by Sir Brian “added another layer of hurt”.

The Kingston upon Hull North MP said: “Finally, the truth.

“It’s a vindication of the nearly 50 years of campaigning for justice and I want to pay tribute to all those infected and affected and also importantly, those who’ve lost their lives in the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.”