Aiden O’Neill QC is representing about 250 individual core participants in Scotland and the two Scottish charities, Haemophilia Scotland and the Scottish Infected Blood Forum.
We are very please he was selected to be the first lawyer representing the infected and affected community to address the Infected Blood Inquiry. We believe this demonstrates that Sir Brian and his team are anxious to benefit from the thinking of those who experienced the Penrose Inquiry and a recognition of the particularly high proportion of individual core participants who are from Scotland.
Aiden O’Neill QC started his remarks by saying that he’d been honoured to work with the core participants he represented to produce, together, a full written statement which has been lodged with the Inquiry and will be available on their website. His intention was to use his oral statement to try and pick out some of the themes in the written statement. We will provide a link to the transcript of his remarks as soon as they are available.
The fact we have been asked to make an opening statement is in contrast to the approach taken at the Penrose Inquiry. Shockingly, the opening statement from Lord Penrose said that every penny spent on the Penrose Inquiry was money taken away from frontline NHS services in Scotland.
The heart of the campaign in Scotland has been for the basic rights of the infected and affected to be respected. That can only be done by addressing the past wrongs and holding those responsible for them to account. However, he cautioned against viewing this as an issue from the past; the harm and suffering is ongoing. It is vital that the Infected Blood Inquiry Learn lessons to protect all patients who reply on the NHS for safe treatment.
There have been serious failures in communication throughout the disaster as a significant theme which was indicative of the issues people faced with not being told about testing, test result, or being properly informed about risks.
He told the Inquiry that he had been humbled by what he has learnt already from the core participants he and the rest of our legal team represent. He summed it up by quoting a women he met in Glasgow who said,
Tell them we aren’t grateful, we are angry. Tell them it’s about bloody time.
Everyone affected placed their trust in doctors, the medical system, and in Government and that that bond of trust has been broken.
A key aim of the Inquiry will be to establish the facts. It was a mistake to think that was a job which had already been completed for Scotland by the Penrose Inquiry; Lord Penrose didn’t hear all the facts. However, there is an opportunity to avoid needless duplication. The Penrose Reports can be usefully mined for factual and scientific information. For example, the chapter on heat treatment.
Penrose failed not because it got key facts wrong but because it didn’t go further than that. It set out the facts without asking why. The Infected Blood Inquiry must do better and make judgements about the facts it uncovers. That judgement should not be against the standard of what reasonable doctors did at the time but on the standard or what we now know to be right. The Penrose Inquiry passed comments without analysis or attributing responsibility and this must not happen again. The Infected Blood Inquiry must focus on accountability and be prepared to attribute blame. That is what justice demands. As a result he shared the concerns of the Inquiry about the position of the Scottish Government He formally called on them to join the Inquiry as a Core Participant.
One of the lessons from the Penrose Inquiry was that affected and infected people would not tolerate being sidelined. Core Participants expect to participate. He also acknowledged that many of the campaigners are phenomenal experts in the infections and urged the Inquiry to draw on that resource.
Another lesson from the experience of the Penrose Inquiry was that the infected and affected core participants will need proper time to consider evidence and documents before hearings.
In terms of the procedures of the Inquiry he said it was important for all witnesses, without exception, to give their evidence under oath.
The final passage of his remarks was about what the Inquiry should seek to achieve.
There is an opportunity for genuine contrition to be shown, appropriate apologies to be made, and for the Inquiry create at least the possibility of reconciliation. To do that the Inquiry will need to make clear recommendations such as,
- A permanent ban on blood from from prisoners. There should also be no role for paid blood donation. Safety has to come first.
- The introduction of a Safety Levy when new treatments are introduced so that the financial costs when something goes wrong are shared by those who profit when things go well.
- Full compensation, as has been achieved in the Republic of Ireland.
- Lifting of the time bar to allow infected and affected people to bring forward court cases.
- The establishment of a permanent psychosocial support service for Scotland.
- Secure funding for the charities who support the infected and affected to ensure a strong patient voice.
- The establishment of a research fund to investigate the full implications of the infections.
He talked about how there was a cautious optimism amongst the Scottish core participants and noted that, given they were Scottish, that was about as optimistic as they could be expected to get.
Finally, be brought it back to the need to always keep in mind that the events being discussed at the Inquiry have had a devastating impact on real peoples’ lives. The final words of his statement were,
It is to those lost and stolen lives that we commit ourselves.