Archer Inquiry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 1st July 2009.

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Minister of State (Public Health), Department of Health 4:29 pm, 1st July 2009

I congratulate Jenny Willott on securing this important debate. I pay tribute to her and others, including parliamentary colleagues, who work to support those who have acquired infections through treatment with blood or blood products.

I am deeply sorry for what happened and have the utmost sympathy for those whose lives have been affected by it either directly or indirectly. Parliament has debated the matter in both the Commons and the other place, and Lord Archer and his team conducted a thorough and valuable review. I thank Lord Archer for his report.

We can all agree that the circumstances are tragic. How could a revolutionary new treatment for haemophilia that offered so much hope at the time—the early 1970s—end in so much tragedy for so many? Almost 5,000 people in the UK and thousands more around the world were infected with hepatitis C and HIV, resulting in the loss of many lives.

Before the treatment became available, the life expectancy of someone with severe haemophilia was less than 30 years. Although there were warning voices at the time about the risk from infection, the consensus in both the scientific and haemophilia communities was that the risk was low and worth taking. Unfortunately, we know now that that consensus was wrong. The best available treatment at the time, a treatment intended solely to improve length and quality of life, resulted instead in heartbreak for many people and their families. The risks were higher than was thought, and the pain and grief caused can never be undone.

If doctors and medical experts had known then what they know now, the tragedy could have been prevented, but the fact is that they did not. Successive Governments have been accused of trying to hide what was said and done during the period when most of the infections occurred, but this Government have done more than any other to make information available about the events, judgments and decisions between 1970 and 1985, after which safer blood products were introduced. In line with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we have made more than 5,500 documents publicly available. In examining all those documents, which span decades, neither we nor Lord Archer and his team found any evidence of a cover-up.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central asked about co-operation with Lord Archer’s inquiry. I will say straight off that there is nothing to hide.