Opinion: This one’s for you Annie. Why the contaminated blood inquiry is long overdue

Annie Walker, who was given contaminated blood in a transfusion in the 1970s. Picture: SIMON FINLAY.

Annie Walker, who was given contaminated blood in a transfusion in the 1970s. Picture: SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

These are the reasons why the contaminated blood public inquiry is long overdue.

In my two decades of journalism few stories have touched a nerve quite as much as the contaminated blood scandal.

While 99 times out of 100 it is our job to stay neutral on an issue, every now and then something comes along where the injustice is so obvious that just isn't possible.

And contaminated blood is one of those examples.

Just a few decades ago a large number of people entering hospital for what they believed was a relatively routine procedure were given 'dirty blood' products which turned out to be infected with hepatitis or HIV.

For reasons that are not yet completely clear, our otherwise excellent NHS had imported blood products from the United States, where the process was so inadequate the likes of drug addicts and prisoners were able to freely donate in return for being given cash.

In the 40 years since, thousands of people have died and many more suffered with life-changing conditions. But, other than a Scottish inquiry into the scandal, little has been done to investigate who was to blame and the compensation for those affected has been woeful.

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Two years ago the scandal was one of the first big projects for our then newly formed Investigations Unit. Through adverts in newspapers across the East, we were able to track down and speak to several dozen people, many in Norfolk and Suffolk, who were still having their lives shaped by the scandal.

All of them felt abandoned and let down by the very people they believed were there to protect them. They all talked of the lack of accountability, poor compensation which in no way made up for the loss of earnings their illnesses had caused and a failure for government to even admit that a wrong had occurred.

One victim I was fortunate enough to interview has always stayed at the forefront of my mind. When you met Norwich woman Annie Walker you would not know anything was wrong with her. Bright, friendly, intelligent and cheerful, her demeanour hid the fact that inside her was a ticking timebomb caused by contaminated blood.

Sadly, in 2016, she passed away, which means that despite all her campaigning and letters to MPs she was never alive to find out the government had at last called the inquiry she so desperately wanted.

This one is for Annie therefore. Let's hope that over the next few weeks those affected get some of the answers they have craved for such a long time.

Sadly nothing can undo a lot of the pain and suffering they have already endured - but at least with the public inquiry there is an opportunity for the remaining years of their lives to be improved.