20 May 2024

Infected blood scandal was ‘a criminal cover-up on an industrial scale’ – Andy Burnham

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

We spoke to Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester and former Health Secretary from 2009 to 2010, to get his response to the report.

The final report into the infected blood scandal has been released, calling it the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, and patients were knowingly exposed to “unacceptable risks.”

The Inquiry Chair Sir Brian Langstaff pointed to the sheer scale of the tragedy, calling it “horrifying”.

Andy Burnham: Well, it’s everything that the families wanted, it’s taken far, far too long. So there are questions for everybody here, for all political parties, for parliament, how did this take so long? How did an injustice on this scale go under a cover-up for decades and nothing was done.

Jackie Long: Exactly as you say, successive governments of both political persuasions have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this moment when justice could have been delivered to the families much, much earlier.

Andy Burnham: I said a few weeks ago, this report would rock Whitehall to its foundations, and it should rock Whitehall to its foundations. I am pleased to see, Sir Brian [Langstaff] confirm, in my view, what I said in my final speech to Parliament that this was a criminal cover-up on an industrial scale. The criminal word is mine. He just says cover-up. But I believe it is a criminal cover-up. I certainly would like to see prosecutions. There has to be full accountability here for what happened alongside that full apology, a meaningful apology, and a full compensation scheme immediately.

Jackie Long: If you were to crystallise what you think has gone wrong over decades politically in the political system, there’s been denial, disregard, disrespect for these families?

Andy Burnham: I think the blame rests somewhere over there in the Treasury because I know that they have had a sort of grip on this issue that no statements admitting liability could be made by anybody. Because that was the view of the British state from the start. The kind of fear of financial exposure couldn’t be allowed to be opened up, and that was the grip that they put on this from the start. And I think that explains why the line never changed over the years.

Jackie Long: And what do you think that has meant for the many, many victims?

Andy Burnham: It’s re-traumatizing. That’s the original harm of the infection, the infection to loved ones. But then that re-traumatizing effect of being left in the wilderness for all of those years shouting to be heard. It’s just taken far, far too long for this day to come. But actually, it would have been quite possible that this day never did come because the cover-up was so orchestrated and was so strong. But finally, it’s been broken. But coming out of it, as I say, Whitehall should be rocked to its foundations. We need major reform to the way this country is run. Because look at the pattern here: Hillsborough. Post office. Today, infected blood. The story is the same. A major wrong is done. And then it’s covered up for decades. And the victims are left in the wilderness. How many more times are we going to allow this to happen to people? There must be a full Hillsborough law put on the statute book, with Sir Brian’s recommendation of a statutory duty of candour on all senior civil servants. That is the only way we will break this pattern.

Jackie Long: Part of all of these scandals that you’ve referenced, ordinary people not being listened to by the authorities, by parliament, by ministers.

Andy Burnham: And they’re there today. It’s heartbreaking in one way just to see everybody there. the weariness on their faces. But today some elation and kind of the weight lifted finally off their shoulders. But they should never have been in this position. If the country had a statutory duty of candour, we would have a situation where people tell the truth at the first time of asking. And none of this would have happened. It would have been corrected at the very beginning. But I just feel elated for them today because finally, that voice has been heard. And Sir Brian magnificently has given the community a voice. But really should we ever be gathering like this, on a day like this?

Shameful. Whitehall rocked to its foundations. How can government line up behind a lie for four decades? How can that be allowed? To happen in a country like ours. How can parliament ignore an injustice on this scale for all of those years. A criminal cover-up on an industrial scale. That is what infected blood is, and that is why there now needs to be full redress on every level.

Jackie Long: Do you think prosecutions are part of justice?

Andy Burnham: And prosecutions also should follow.

Rishi Sunak speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon said:

“This is a day of shame for the British state. Today’s report shows a decades long moral failure at the heart of our national life. From the National Health Service to the civil service. To ministers in successive governments. At every level, the people and institutions in which we place our trust, failed in the most harrowing and devastating way.”

“I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice.”

“We will pay comprehensive compensation to those infected and those affected by this scandal, accepting the principles recommended by the inquiry, which builds on the work of Sir Robert Francis. Whatever it costs to deliver this scheme, we will pay it. And my Right Honourable friend, the Minister for the Cabinet Office will set out the details tomorrow.”