‘There was no cover up’ says man whose firm was at the heart of contaminated blood scandal

David Powles interviewing.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

David Powles interviewing.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

'I want to give the other side to the story'.

Steve Sillett, contaminated blood victim, at home with wife Di (middle) and daughter-in-law Laura Ro

Steve Sillett, contaminated blood victim, at home with wife Di (middle) and daughter-in-law Laura Rookyard. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

So said an email sent in the aftermath of our recent investigation into the continued problems plaguing contaminated blood scandal victims from the 1970s and 80s.

For while the government had been given full right-to-reply to the many accusations laid at their door following our probe, what had been impossible to source was the take from those people at the very heart of the story – the drug companies who supplied the contaminated blood products.

During the period in question several companies were tasked with the job of purchasing and importing blood plasma products, which was then put through a process which separated each usable element before being sold to NHS organisations in this country.

These organisations would then use the products to treat the sick.

Michael Colyer is one of many people in region impacted by the contaminated blood scandal and believ

Michael Colyer is one of many people in region impacted by the contaminated blood scandal and believes the Penrose Inquiry is a hatchet job.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

What is now known is that some of those blood products were contaminated, carrying infections such as hepatitis C and even HIV, which in many cases were subsequently passed on to the person being treated. Many have died this way, many more have suffered years of sickness.


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Decades on it is still claimed more should have been done to stop the so-called 'bad blood' from being used. Some of it, for instance, was sourced from prisoners, the homeless and prostitutes in the United States, people who were at a high risk of carrying infections.

What is worse, is the accusation from many victims and expert campaigners that as far as some people are concerned this was more than a simple accident or medical failure. It is claimed that certain people within the health industry knew of the risks of contamination yet, whether through financial reasons or other reasons, did little about it.

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This is one of the accusations that Keith (not his real name) is keen to discuss. Keith previously worked as a senior sales manager for the south, which included Norfolk and Suffolk, for one of the major players in the blood product sector. One that has faced much scrutiny and criticism over the issue.

His job was to manage a sales team for a large part of the country, which would sell the blood products to hospitals and other NHS organisations.

Although his time of employment, for much of the 1990s, came shortly after the height of the scandal and at a time when safety had been improved, he witnessed much of its aftermath and worked with those around at the time.

We meet for coffee in a quiet train station cafe in the south-east.

The small talk is kept to a minimum as it's clear he is a man determined to get his point across.

He told me: 'Speaking from within the industry I can categorically say there was no cover-up. A lot of this was down to ignorance. No, more a lack of knowledge. There was nothing malicious or malevolent about the contamination.

'There were no shortcuts taken or any attempts to avoid admission. Two factual things that don't weigh up with those claims – the HIV virus was not commonly known about until the 1980s.

'It was a completely new entity, so how can you look for something that you don't know exists?

'Hep C and Hep A were known about, but I don't think the long-term affects were known.'

I put to him evidence raised at a 2009 Lord Archer inquiry into the scandal which showed there were levels of knowledge and warnings within the NHS of the risks the products were carrying.

His reply: 'Not where I worked. They didn't know.'

He added: 'You have to remember that at the time there were no other options. You could let people die or treat them. It might not have been perfect but there was no other choice. Any medical procedure comes with dangers.'

It's easy to imagine in scandals like these hordes of faceless, cold, non-caring scientists carrying out dodgy practices under the cover of darkness, something which Keith is keen to get across is far from the truth.

He explained: 'I did work with people who were around when the contaminated blood was passed on and they thought it was a terrible thing. But they did it without knowing about it and as soon as they found out, it was rectified.

'They understood the enormity of being a victim of contamination and everyone felt sorry for them.

'The people most affected by it were the scientists. They did try their best to keep up with all the latest technologies but if you don't know about something how can you do anything about it?'

In the aftermath of the scandal Keith says he and fellow workers would often be verbally abused by people who blamed them for what happened.

And years on he fears there is still a feeling among the public that the problems of contaminated blood persist, something he wants to dispel.

He said: 'I did come up against it on a daily basis. You would walk into a blood bank or hospital and they would ask you about it, to test your knowledge.

'The reaction from people varied widely from acceptance to personal hatred, even though it had been nothing to do with me and wasn't happening any more.'

One of the issues facing victims and their families centres upon levels of compensation, with many feeling they have not been properly recompensed for something that wasn't their fault and something that should have been stopped by the government. However, Keith was passionate in his views on that subject as well, adding: 'How should you compensate somebody for something like this?

'My mother died through a medical mistake – should I be compensated? Should we compensate for everything that doesn't go right?

'There's always a risk and at the end of the day what other choice did they have if they needed medical treatment?'

But he admits he can 'understand' and 'appreciate' why years on, those affected would feel passionately about their cause in light of the fact compensation has been, in the government's own words, flawed and no-one has ever been made accountable for a saga that has ruined so many lives.

What do you think? Email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk and include your full contact details.

NEW REPORT

Since our investigation, campaign group Tainted Blood has issued a fresh report which it claims adds weight to its claims that many questions remain unanswered about the scandal.

The 24-page report, First, Do No Harm, uses publicly-available documents to highlight some of the warnings and concerns that were raised about the safety of blood and blood products, long before measures were introduced in the mid 1980s to improve safety.

The first, a letter from the Stanford University Medical Center, to the Blood Products Laboratory, shows how concerns were raised about the potential for imported blood products to be contaminated as early as 1975.

Campaigners claim that if Britain had acted on those early indications and warnings, hundreds of lives would have been saved.

They also argue governments at the time took the cheaper option of importing blood and blood products, many of which turned out to be contaminated, rather than put investment into setting up a safe and self-sustaining blood system within the United Kingdom.

The group continues to call for an independent inquiry to determine how and why these decisions were made and who was behind them.

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