Contaminated blood debate – victims and their families deserve justice

I was pleased to co-table a motion to be debated in the Assembly, calling on the UK Government to hold a full public inquiry into the contaminated blood tragedy of the 1970s and 1980s. On the screens in the Assembly chamber were the names of some of the 70 in Wales that have died as a result. Here is my speech during that debate yesterday:

What we’re demanding this afternoon is very simple indeed. As we’ve heard, 283 people in Wales were infected with hepatitis C or HIV because of contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s. Seventy of those have now passed away. Their names are once again on the screens around this Chamber, and behind every name, there is an individual who had to live a life suffering both illness and stigma, through no fault of their own. And behind every name, there is also a family who have had to grieve, through no fault of their own.

In the cross-party group on contaminated blood, we’ve heard some powerful descriptions of the experiences of victims and their families, not only the physical impacts of the infection, but also the psychological impacts on them, their families and friends, about the prejudice of people when they told them that they had HIV or hepatitis C, and the guilt felt by many of them who had infected husbands, wives or even babies, unbeknown to them. Because of that, factors such as these, many have decided to suffer in silence. But, to intensify that suffering, Government after Government has also chosen to remain silent and refused to get to the heart of exactly what went wrong and why. Victims and their families deserve to know and they deserve justice.

One of the outcomes of this absence of answers, the absence of a perception of what went wrong, is the striking problem, as we’ve heard from many Members, in terms of the compensation packages provided. These demands for an inquiry today don’t replace calls for improved compensation packages for victims. I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary hears my comments on that. Certainly a full public inquiry shouldn’t be any reason for the Government to delay, any further, coming to a just settlement for those people who have suffered.

Following the Penrose inquiry in Scotland in 2005, the SNP Government did introduce a new improved, fairer system of financial support, because they believed that the Scottish Government had a moral responsibility to do that. Let us here, too, support demands for an inquiry, but a fuller public inquiry, as part of the steps towards giving full support to victims in Wales and their families, too.

Let me quote a constituent of mine, whose wife, Jennifer, is suffering from hepatitis C. She was infected in the 1970s. This is what he said:

‘In the 14 years since she has become ill, she’s been unable to do most of the things she did before. In the early days, she was so debilitated that she could not cook; could walk only a short distance; could not drive; found it difficult to understand basic things; she needed help washing and dressing. She has improved slowly, but 12 years later, she still suffers from chronic fatigue, usually spending most afternoons asleep. She cannot cope with day-to-day housework and cooking, but she tries to do some, often making mistakes.’
Crucially, he says, ‘In her words, she never has a good day; just bad or very bad’.

I’ve met Jennifer and her husband on a number of occasions. I’ve been struck by their dignity; dignity in the face of what they have had to endure in terms of their health and in the face of an unjust compensation structure, and of too many unanswered questions. Seventy of the 283 contaminated in Wales are no longer with us. You’ve seen their names in the Chamber today. We owe it to them and we owe it to all those still living with the consequences of the contaminated blood scandal to seek answers, once and for all. For justice, support today’s motion.